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Getting Mom to Eat: Dementia and Dining

We often hear from family caregivers how difficult it is to get a mom or dad with dementia to eat. Why is this? There are several reasons. The neurological changes associated with dementia can result in a failure to properly stimulate areas of the brain that recognize hunger and, accordingly, to take actions to satisfy that hunger. In some cases, sensory deficits will reduce an individual’s sense of smell and taste, making the act of eating far less enjoyable. An impaired memory can also cause someone to think they’ve already eaten when, in fact, they have not. Medications can also impair appetite as well. As you can see, the list goes on.

As a caregiver, however, there are things you can do to make your loved one’s dining experience more pleasurable and conducive to eating. Here are a few tips to jump start your efforts:

  1. Appearance matters. Try using a bright solid colored plate for your loved one’s food. Why? A study, conducted by Boston University, found that individuals eating from red plates ate 25% more than those eating from white plates. According to their feedback, individuals could see their food more easily on a red plate than on a white plate. By noticing the food, they were more likely to eat it. You might also try dishing out smaller portions and add some more colorful vegetables on the plate to liven it up. Dress the food up with a touch of parsley, much as you might find on an entrée at a café. This will make the dish more appealing and may encourage mom or dad to take a few extra bites.
  2. Prepare easy to eat food. As we age, our ability to use utensils can become impaired. This is especially true for those with dementia. Try creating tasty and nutritious finger sandwiches that are easy to pick up. Include other finger foods, such as cut of fruit and vegetables. Consider serving a chicken drumstick rather than bulky chicken breasts. Mexican foods such as taquitos can be delicious and easy to handle.
  3. Create an atmosphere conducive to eating. Make it a point to sit down and eat along with mom or dad. Make eye contact as much as possible. Keep conversation light and to a minimum. This will help them focus on the food rather than become distracted by conversation. Avoid lecturing about the importance of eating and nutrition. This can have the reverse effect on your parent, who may sense your frustration and worry. That will increase their own anxiety and, hence, their reluctance to eat.

Finally, try to set a schedule for meals. Experiment with sizes of meals and time of day. Does you mom or dad have issues with “sundowning” and become anxious as the sun sets? It may be wise to schedule a meal well before or after the transition to evening.

At Anthem Memory Care communities, our chefs and culinary staff stay on the cutting edge of creating a pleasing, relaxing and nutritious dining experience for our residents and their families. We would be happy to share more dining tips with you. Better yet, drop in and visit an Anthem Memory Care community near you. You are always welcome!