Nutritional Challenges For People With Dementia And Their Caregivers

We all know how important proper nutrition is to keep our bodies strong and healthy. Our appetite often decreases as we age and for those suffering from dementia getting adequate nutritious meal intake is often extra challenging for several reasons. Someone with dementia may become overwhelmed with too many food choices, forget to eat or even think they have already eaten.

Problems could arise due to physical issues such as poor-fitting dentures or other mouth or swallowing abnormalities. They may also suffer from other chronic diseases or take medications that may lead to loss of appetite. Constipation or depression can also decrease appetite.

Often we see a person with dementia having difficulties sitting still long enough to eat adequate amounts of food. Think about what you can change in the immediate environment to reduce distractions. Are there noises? Is the table by a window looking out onto a busy street? The outdoors may just be enticing and distracting. You may want to close the curtains. Turn the TV and radios off during meals.

Be flexible and remember the person’s food preferences and keep likes and dislikes in mind. You may want to add more spices to the meal to bring out the flavor more. Make meal times calm and comfortable. Table clothes, placemats and dishes should not have busy patterns, don’t put out any extra utensils out. Serve only one or two foods at a time in small portions; remember they get overwhelmed with decision making very easily. Make sure foods are not too hot. Be patient as they need plenty of time to eat and give simple instructions one at a time … “Pick up your fork,” “put some food on it,” raise it to your mouth.” Speak slowly and clearly and don’t criticize. Physically show them as you eat. Put their hand on the utensil or guide them if necessary. Encourage independence for as long as possible.

Avoid food items hard to chew such as raw carrots, nuts or tough meats. Cut meats into very small pieces. You may need to check their mouths to make sure they are swallowing the food.

If it becomes obvious they are not going to settle down to eat, don’t try to force it; take a break and involve them in another activity and then come back to it later. It may be more successful to offer several smaller meals and snacks throughout the day and more finger foods. If you need the person with dementia to get more calories try milkshakes or pudding.

You may find they especially like sweets. You can freeze liquid nutritional supplements and serve as milkshakes, pudding or ice cream.

Help to maintain good oral hygiene after meals and visit the dentist regularly.

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program provides nutritious noon meals at several Congregate Dining Sites throughout the county along with a restaurant dining out program. Our dietitian, Cheryl Walhstrom, RD is available for nutrition counseling in your home at no cost to you. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Call the office for more details and information.

Call NY Connects at 753-4582.