While individuals with dementia do not typically require special diets (unless other conditions such as diabetes are present), healthy eating is important for everyone, especially as we age. However, there are challenges for individuals with dementia which can become an impediment to meeting healthy dietary goals.
The Cleveland Clinic has listed many of these challenges. Here are three that we hear often from family caregivers, along with some tips to help you tackle them:
- General agitation surrounding mealtime. This is often part of the behavioral changes experienced by those living with dementia. They may complain about the taste of the food, the people around them or just feel rushed to finish.
First, allow them to take their time eating. Between possible vision issues and mobility/coordination issues, your loved one may be inclined to give up eating, even if they are still hungry. Ask what you can do to help, listen carefully, and make every effort to accommodate their needs. If they are angry, give them time to calm down before you encourage them to eat again.
- Loss of appetite due to medications or emotional issues.
This can be challenging as medications can alter the taste of food as well as impact appetite. Start by experimenting with a wider range of foods to home in on what is more palatable to your loved one. Don’t be afraid to try new spices and herbs to add more flavor to meals. Consider asking your doctor about diet supplements to augment regular meals.
- Difficulty in coordinating the use of utensils. As the disease progresses, fine motor skills and agility will become impaired making the use of utensils frustrating and stressful.
Try providing “finger foods” such as sandwiches, spring rolls, breads and cheeses, and large slices of fruit. Today, more than ever, there are plenty of recipes for nutritious snack-style foods that can easily be eaten and provide a balanced diet. Other family members will enjoy them too.
These are just a few tips family caregivers can use encourage better eating habits. You can find more tips on the Cleveland Clinic site.
Our Anthem Memory Care community dieticians, chefs, and caregivers all work together to accommodate the unique food preferences and dietary needs of our residents. With a few adjustments, some patience and planning, you too can help ensure that you are meeting the dietary needs of your loved one, while making mealtime more pleasurable for everyone.