7 Tips for Easier Mealtimes for Dementia Patients

Choice HomecareAlzheimer, Caregiving, Dementia

A seemingly simple task such as eating can eventually become a challenging and combative task for those who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Eating healthy, fueling meals is a challenge on its own for most seniors, but it becomes especially difficult when your loved one forgets to eat, or a decline in motor skills makes it hard to use utensils. Patients can become extremely dependent on their caregivers, which is why it is crucial to develop a plan to alleviate some of the mealtime hassles.

Here are some tips to help make mealtime with your loved one easier.

Provide several small meals instead of three large meals

With Alzheimer’s and dementia, it can be common to forget when or how to eat properly. Even identifying sensations of hunger can become a challenge. Breaking up mealtimes into smaller meals throughout the day can make it easier to ensure your loved one is getting a balanced diet. Smaller meals and snacks are also easier and faster to consume and present less of a hurdle than sitting through a large meal.

Provide simple choices

Your loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s may become overwhelmed and frustrated with a wide assortment of meal choices. It may even result in refusal to eat. When plating portions, try to aim for having no more than 2 to 3 different options and be sure to keep the portions themselves small as noted above.

Allow more time for every meal

Those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s tend to require more time to perform functions we normally take for granted, including eating. Provide your loved one with at least an hour to enjoy their meal.

Reminders, while maintaining independence

Sometimes, your loved one may lose track of how they are supposed to eat a specific portion or perform functions such as cutting meat. If you are eating with them and notice that they’re struggling, try to get their attention and demonstrate what they ought to do next without making them feel foolish. Resist the urge to feed them yourself because you want to respect their individuality. They’ll eventually pick up on what they ought to do next and perform the action themselves.

Supplement meals with healthy shakes and drinks

If your loved one is unable to meet their nutritional requirements through normal meals, it may be necessary to take dietary supplements to get enough protein, fiber, and vitamins. If your loved one has difficulty eating food or refuses to eat, consider swapping out some meals for healthy drinks that are high in protein and dense in calories. For example, consider using heavy cream instead of milk in coffee and tea for a boost in calories, or protein powder blended with fresh fruit for that healthy boost each day. Speak with your loved one’s health care practitioner for recommendations. This is especially important if your loved one has health complications such as diabetes or high blood pressure that necessitate a special diet.

Make eating easier

Using utensils can become a challenge as dementia or Alzheimer’s progresses. But you can alleviate that problem by adding more finger-friendly foods. You can try items such as sliced veggies and fruits, sandwiches, and cheese cubes. For loved ones with more advanced stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, switch to soft, bite-sized foods or even meals that are pureed.

Eliminate distractions

When it’s time to eat, eliminating distractions such as the TV or radio can allow your loved one to focus more on the task of eating. Try to form a habit of turning off any distractions until after meals have been finished.