Alzheimer’s or dementia is a brain disease that causes damage to one’s cognitive and reasoning abilities, resulting in severe loss of his/her mental functioning. A person with dementia would not eat like a normal person; he will try to avoid even his favorite food. If you are a caregiver and your elderly loved one has dementia, you should know the tips to help him eat more without causing you any inconvenience.
We have gathered some best tips in this article that can help patients with dementia to eat more. Let’s get started.
With many factors affecting the body, dementia also tends to decrease food consumption – this is why people with dementia eat less as compared to an average person. The causes of this reason are problems in chewing, swallowing or digesting. It affects the metabolism rate of the body.
Loss of appetite may also be caused by a person’s behavior and mental state of the body. People think of food less in this state, have a lack of taste, or tend to think that they have already eaten similar food. Sometimes, even medication can also effect appetite.
Following is the list of tips to improve the eating habit of people with dementia:
Color of Plate
According to a study, researchers from Boston University found out that patients consume 25% more food in red plates as compared to those who eat in white plates. This is probably connected to the sense of sight. Patients with dementia are unable to differentiate the contrast between food and color. Therefore, the color palette of the plates allows them to distinguish their food easily.
Plates with yellow color have also shown remarkable results in many innovative programs. Companies with different labels are serving worldwide regarding furniture (tableware) to spread awareness and cure dementia.
Make it Convenient for Them
There is a stage of dementia when it gets quite tough to feed the patient. Handling utensils and dishware get difficult for them as well. In this phase, finger food is the best option to consume. Treat and give patients food which they can easily eat with their hands. Following are some of these foods:
- Fruits with great contrasting colors like strawberries, grapes, raspberries, and bananas.
- Nuts full of protein such as almonds and Brazil nuts.
- Crisps and healthier vegetable crisps.
- Chicken nuggets and French fries are a good way of consuming high carbs and protein.
- Carrots and Celery can be consumed for vitamins and Iron.
A person with dementia should feel as comfortable as a normal person sitting beside or in front of him at the dinner table. When beginning to eat, have eye contact with the patient and pass a smile. Wait for them to do the same. Be patient and quiet. Start eating food first and then make eye contact, waiting for them to follow you the same way.
Patience is the primary key to this treatment. Developing such a habit for an average person can be troublesome, but it can surely help a person with dementia to eat more.
Convincing the Person to Eat
Ordering a person with dementia to eat is not the right way to get productive results. Convince them to eat food properly and teach them how to take a bite. It should seem like they are eating it for the first time. The real job of a caregiver is to be a food guide and get highly productive results from the person. Pass them smile while they are having eye contact with you and try not to talk while they are eating.
In the beginning, it is way much frustrating and disturbing, and it should be. It would seem like you are teaching a child how to eat properly. There will be problems in communication (link with Tips for Caregivers to Effectively Communicate with Elderly Patients) and understanding as well for the first time, but progressive results will appear every day. It is time taking but worth it. Never consider it a problem, instead take it as an act of kindness to treat someone.
Arrangement of Food
Experimenting with sizes, textures and flavors of the food can give good results too. Here are some practical ways to do it:
- Add contrasting or bright color vegetables to highlight the food.
- Fill the plate with less quantity of food items.
- Cut the food into small pieces or slices for more convenience.
- Change the textures of food — for example, mashing, boiling, baking or frying potatoes.
- Remember the food which they used to like in the past and try to serve it quite often in their meals. Place their favorite food with other items on the plate.
Praising the Food
“How’s the food?” it is the most common phrase we hear at home, restaurants, café, and various food points. This question covers up everything regarding the taste, textures, hygiene, and looks of food. You, as a caregiver, can also use this tactic to help a person with dementia eat food with interest.
When dealing with a person with dementia, you should not go with longer conversations or discussions regarding food. Few simple phrases like “The food is fantastic” or “It tastes so good” can encourage a person to eat their food too. Similarly, passing comments and having eye contact with the patient can give them a boost to eat their food.
Less Talk, Eat More
Multitasking is a poor way to treat a patient with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Patients cannot perform different tasks at the same time. Making them comfortable and feeling relaxed is a priority check. Talking less and eating more is the key to treat the patient. Small comments about food or person are enough. Keep in mind that they are only able to focus on one single thing at a time and that too with difficulty.
Dividing the Meals
It is a wrong belief that every person needs three regular meals a day. On the contrary, there can be three regular meals, two large meals, or five small meals per day. In fact, five small meals can help improve metabolism and regulate blood pressure. Assisting the person with dementia to maintain the habit of five meals per day is the best way of improving their health, body weight, and appetite.
There are many helpful ways to divide the meals regularly. Caregivers can use DMAT (Dementia Mealtime Assessment Tool) to maintain balance in diet and behavior of patient with dementia.
Importance of Nutrition
Indeed, nutrition is a critical part of keeping the patient healthy and sound. For nutrition improvements, one has to be realistic. Ice-cream is one of those good food items that a person with dementia can consume in the liquid form. Furthermore, the addition of supplements and other boosters is also a great choice.
Coming to vegetables; spinach, celery, broccoli, and carrots are a great way to feed lots of healthy nutrients to a person with dementia. So is the case with proteins and carbs – Chicken nuggets, fries, and nuts can be helpful.
In short, if you are helping someone with dementia to eat more, you should make sure that they are consuming healthy foods.
Dementia is one of the severe causes of anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, and memory loss. A famous proverb said: “A path to a man’s heart leads directly from his stomach”, which means that the key to every heart is good food.
The people with dementia have a loss of appetite, and they lack interest in different foods. Extra care should be given to them, and their meals should be evaluated on a regular basis. Arranging food items the right way, developing taste/textures, and following all the other tips mentioned above will surely provide productive results but may take some time as well. Stay healthy!
In addition to dementia, people who have Parkinson’s disease also find it challenging to eat. If you need help, read our Guide to Selecting Assistive Devices for People Living with Parkinson’s Disease for the best recommendations.