It is difficult for anyone to find the time to prepare fresh, healthy meals, let alone a caregiver. Yet, nutrition is so important for both the caregiver and the person they are caring for. It is easy, and tempting, to rely on fast food, take out and frozen meals. However the majority of these foods are sorely lacking in nutrients and vitamins.
In addition to time management, there are many other challenges facing caregivers. Alzheimer’s often time effects the senses. This can alter abilities to taste and smell the food they are eating. It is not uncommon for someone to stop eating their “favorite” food due to the fact that it doesn’t taste the same to the person any longer. This can be frustrating for caregivers. Trouble using silverware can also pose problems, making some food difficult, if not impossible to eat. In cases like this, finger foods may be more successful. This allows for the person in care to maintain some independence while increasing food intake. More serious issues associated with Alzheimer’s are difficulties chewing and swallowing which causes a choking risk. Dealing with these issues can be complicated so it is best to speak with a physician or preferably a speech therapist. Speech therapists are trained to deal with these exact issues and can best guide you as a caregiver on diet modifications that will reduce the risk of choking.
As for the cooking, like all caregiver tasks, it is important to be organized and plan ahead. Compile some recipes that you think would be nutritious, tasty and easy to prepare. You could even turn it into an activity and include your loved one in the process. Instead of sitting at a computer and downloading recipes, go through old family cookbooks or magazines with pictures of food. A trip to the library could be a wonderful experience. Not only does it get you both out of the house, libraries are one of the few public spaces that are naturally quiet with minimal to no distractions, making it a great environment for someone with Alzheimer’s. You can go through all kinds of food books and magazines and decide together what to make.
When looking for recipes, here are some tips to make cooking easier and healthier for both of you:
Crock Pot. As a caregiver, the crock pot is your best friend for so many reasons. There is the obvious time factor. All you have to do is throw all of the ingredients in and set the timer. There is no worry of burning something or fussing over a stove all day. It also makes cleanup much easier. And don’t get caught up in thinking that a crock pot is only for soups and stews. You can bake and even roast in them! So be creative and explore the possibilities. You may even want to have more than one to use.
Soup. Having several soup recipes on hand is a must. Not only are they perfect for a crock pot, but they can be some of the healthiest dishes you make. All of the nutrients and vitamins are contained within the liquid, regardless of how long you cook it. Eating soups regularly have been shown to aid in maintaining a strong immune system. Soups also serve as hydrates. As a caregiver, you know the importance of keeping your loved one hydrated throughout the day. Having soup at least once a day will help get more liquids in them.
Smoothies. Like soup, smoothies are a wonderful way of getting a variety of fruits, and even vegetables, into your loved one’s diet as well as providing hydration. Fruit smoothies are an excellent way to satisfy a sweet tooth or a craving. Use natural sweeteners, such as honey or agave nectar, to turn plain yogurt into a treat. You can even hide vegetables in smoothies! Uncooked spinach has virtually no taste. Throwing in a handful of spinach into a fruit smoothie won’t alter the taste a bit but will add to the health benefits.
Make a Lot. Finding the time to cook isn’t easy so use that time to the max. Cook a lot of food and make extra. Even if it just the two of you, cook 6 to 8 servings of everything. It won’t take that much more time and will free you up from some cooking in the future. Portion meals and freeze them, similar to a tv dinner. You can even cook 2 or 3 different meals at once.
Repeat as Necessary. When you find what works, stick with it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with cooking and serving the same foods over and over, as long as they are providing the needed nutrients and vitamins to maintaining good health. It is important to consider that for most people living with Alzheimer’s, short term memory loss is one of the first symptoms. If they love vegetable soup and want to eat it every day, let them. There is no need to feel guilty or that you are failing them by feeding them the same thing.
These are just a few suggestions for making meal times easier and more successful for both the caregiver and the one in care. As the disease progresses, different approaches may have to be taken. What works one day, may not work the next. Being flexible and creative will help to maintain proper food intake which will help reduce ailments and illnesses.