Cooking and Meal Preparation Tips for Dementia Caregivers

One of the most frustrating traits of Alzheimer’s is that it progresses differently for each person. As this type of disease progresses, it is not uncommon for a family member to lose their appetite. In other cases, an individual with Alzheimer’s may begin to eat more than they used to. However, a majority of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia will experience a decrease in appetite as the disease becomes more severe.

Meal Planning Tips for Dementia Caregivers

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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 is 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.

5. 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 maintain 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 mealtimes 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.

How to Make Lunch and Dinner More Enjoyable

There are some fairly easy methods that personal caregivers can use to help make mealtime more successful and enjoyable for the person they are caring for. Before you can implement any of them, you will need to determine the cause(s) that are responsible for any change in eating habits. A dementia diagnosis may have little to no impact on the appetite of your family member. In some cases, your grandparent or parent may decide to eat less due to a loss of taste that is a side effect of medication. To help prevent moderate to severe health issues, we have compiled a list of 4 tips for caregivers to follow at mealtime.

1. Create a Lunch and Dinner Routine

An effective caregiver tip to get your family member to eat is to establish a lunch and dinner routine. This will help your loved one’s body clock adjust to eating at a specific time on a daily basis. This tip may also be used for other types of daily activities including bedtime, bathing, and grooming.

2. Cut Meat and Vegetables into Manageable Portions

Though it is very important to let the person in care maintain their independence as long as possible, it is also important that they eat. A popular tip that caregivers use to increase food intake includes cutting food into bite sized pieces. Too much food on a plate may also be intimidating for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Serving a single type of food at a time in smaller portions is a useful way to get your family member to eat more at each meal.

For some, the act of using utensils may be forgotten or impossible. If your family member is unable to use a fork and a knife, an easy tip for caregivers to follow includes serving food that can be eaten with fingers. This is an excellent way to help your family member maintain their independence with eating on their own. Obviously, the caregiver will need to be cautious of the temperature and texture of the food. While it may be important for caregivers to provide support at mealtime, do not infringe on the dignity of a person. With conscious effort, cutting someone’s steak, serving finger foods or even spoon feeding someone can be done while maintaining dignity.

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3. Compensate for Loss of Senses

As Alzheimer’s progresses, different parts of the brain are affected. After short term memory loss, many people with the disease experience a decrease in one or more of their senses. For example, the inability to smell, taste, or even see food can easily keep a person from wanting to eat. The pleasure one usually receives from eating is no longer there, making meals more of a task and less enjoyable.

If your grandparent does not want to eat, a simple tip for caregivers includes making food more appetizing by adding seasoning. We caution that caregivers do not rely on using more “salt” or products high in sodium to enhance flavors due to the health risks. To help with smell, there are several products out there that simulate the aromas of fresh baked foods that may stimulate appetites when the food itself isn’t giving off smells detectable to the person in care.

When it comes to sight, the old saying, “We eat with our eyes first” couldn’t be more true than it is in a dementia care setting. Not being able to see the food clearly makes it harder to physically get the food on a utensil and into one’s mouth. Studies have shown that using colored dishware, like red plates, makes it easier to see different foods and possibly even stimulate the appetite. Just keep in mind that the contrast in the color of the food to the dishware is what is important. Mashed potatoes may get visually lost on a white plate, just as tomatoes could be harder to see on a red plate. Keeping a variety of different colored dishes can make mealtimes easier and even more enjoyable.

4. Create a Relatable Conversation at Lunch or Dinner

Though eating is extremely important, don’t let meals become a “task” for the person with Alzheimer’s. Mealtimes can definitely cause anxieties for someone with dementia. Keep distractions to a minimum to alleviate anxiety while your family member is eating. Despite the loss of short term memory, long term experiences can remain throughout the majority of the disease. Family suppers and holiday gatherings may still be strong memories that your family member relies on for comfort. For most people, these are important traditions ingrained in their minds.

Meals are when families connect, share their day’s events and celebrate special occasions. The most important tip a caregiver should practice at lunch or dinner is conversation. This will make mealtimes social and enjoyable. Sit with the person and eat with them. It is common for someone with Alzheimer’s to feel lonely as it is. Eating alone may be too much for them to bear so they just forgo eating altogether.

As a caregiver, you will discover various tips that are effective or ineffective. Being flexible and patient is the key to facilitating a healthy diet. If you’re struggling to feed or care for a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, give our staff a call by phone at (630) 534-0886. Terra Vista is an Alzheimer’s and dementia care facility in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois that offers memory care programs.

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