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.
How to Make Lunch & Dinner 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 & 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 & 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.
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.