For those living with a progressive cognitive disease like dementia, it can be difficult to maintain a diet that gives them the nutrients they need to stay healthy. The symptoms of progressive memory loss, such as agitation, forgetfulness and the eventual loss of basic skills can make eating well a challenge. However, with the proper care and considerations on the caregiver’s part, they can make mealtimes easier and ensure that their loved one is getting all the nutrients they need to stay well.
A healthy diet for a dementia patient is no different than one a cognitively healthy senior needs. The instances of malnutrition with memory loss is not necessary a problem of what foods they eat, but if they’re eating them at all. In the later stages of dementia, loved ones may experience changes in appetite, a loss of skills they need to cook and eat without assistance or trouble chewing and swallowing. These symptoms increase a person’s risk of health problems if they don’t get enough vitamins and nutrients to stay healthy.
If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, you can make sure they’re maintaining a nutritious diet by finding adaptations to help overcome these symptoms. Adding variety to meals, switching out table settings and changing food consistency are all possible ways to help your loved one eat and enjoy their food.
Minimizing Malnutrition in Dementia
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the three most common factors that lead to eating problems and the lack of a nutritious diet are poor appetite, loss of daily living skills and problems chewing and swallowing. Learn how to address these issues to help your loved one get the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Improving Poor Appetite
- Encourage exercise – Your loved one’s appetite might decrease if they lack enough physical activity to burn off calories. Find simple ways to burn calories, such as walking or gardening.
- Boost the flavor – Dementia can affect the senses of taste and smell, making food taste unpleasant or bland. Increasing flavor can make eating more enjoyable.
- Be aware of changing food preferences – As your loved one’s memory loss progresses, understand that they might reject foods they used to enjoy or like eating different foods than they did in the past.
- Monitor medication changes – New medications or dosages could affect your loved one’s appetite. Talk with their doctor if you notice a change.
- Pay attention to dental care – Your loved one may not be able to communicate if their dentures fit poorly or if they have a toothache, making it painful to chew. Visit the dentist regularly and ensure their dentures fit properly.
Adjusting for a Loss of Skills
- Serve small, frequent meals – Your loved one might not remember eating throughout the day. To avoid confusion or frustration, serve smaller meals, one food at a time (e.g., toast, then coffee, then some fruit and oatmeal).
- Adapt to their abilities – Make eating easier by switching out dishes and utensils. For example, serve food in a bowl rather than on a plate, or give them a large spoon instead of a fork.
- Use contrast – Declining visual and spatial abilities might make it hard to distinguish food from the plate and cause frustration. Use plain white dishes and avoid patterned table linens.
- Check the food’s temperature – Your loved one may not be able to tell if their food is too hot or too cold. Always check the temperature before they eat to avoid discomfort or burns.
Modifying Food Consistency
- Prepare meals with swallowing in mind – Mince, dice or chop foods to make them easier to swallow. If your loved one has severe difficulties or dysphagia, it might be necessary to purée foods or serve only soft options (applesauce, mashed potatoes, yogurt, etc.).
- Serve finger foods – Serve bite-sized options that are easy to pick up and eat. Orange slices, chicken nuggets and steamed broccoli are good choices.
- Keep beverages close by – Provide a drink after each bite to assist with safe swallowing.
- Watch for signs of choking – Encourage your loved one to sit up straight while eating. Afterwards, check their mouth for remaining food. Learn the Heimlich maneuver in case of emergencies.
If you and your loved one can identify which symptoms are making eating less desirable, addressing those symptoms and adapting the menu and environment may be all it takes to help them maintain a nutritious diet.
The Art of Living at Tuscan Gardens
At Tuscan Gardens®, our memory care residents receive the extra support they need to maintain a nutritious diet and are given dining options that promote their remaining abilities and skills. We help all of our residents enjoy a dining experience that encourages independence and never sacrifices their dignity.
From dedicated care that respects residents’ individuality and dignity to a lifestyle that nurtures their love of life, Tuscan Gardens was built to be more than just a residence, but a place to call home.
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