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Ten Tips to Encourage Healthy Eating People Living with Dementia

Posted by Constance Schein, RN
on October 30, 2021
A resident at breakfast.

When caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you face new challenges as their personality changes, their behavior becomes unfamiliar, and the disease progresses.  One of the top issues that many caregivers encounter happens around the kitchen table.  Your loved one may no longer want to eat or eats very little.  They may noticeably lose weight, look frail, and not eat enough calories throughout the day.

Lack of appetite is worrisome.   Proper nutrition is necessary to maintain strength, stay alert, combat behavior issues, and prevent illness. If your loved one is experiencing weight loss, consult with their physician.  In addition, try these suggestions if you want to encourage your loved one to eat:

  1. Keep it simple. Eliminate distractions such as a decorative floral arrangement, napkin holders, salt and pepper figurines, or a bowl of fruit in the center of the table. These can confuse the person with dementia.  Serve meals in a quiet setting without distracting music or a noisy television.   Keep the place setting simple with only the utensils needed for that meal.  To encourage independence, serve food in a bowl or use a spoon instead of a fork to make eating easier for them.
  2. Set aside time for meals. Give your loved one plenty of time to sit at the table to eat a meal. Dining should be a relaxed and calm experience, not rushed or frustrating. If they can still feed themselves, a meal may take longer, but you are supporting their independence and dignity.
  3. Add some color. Poor eyesight and spatial issues can make it difficult to see food clearly or to be able to distinguish between the table and plate.  Use a white plate with colorful food to create a contrast and place a plate on a colorful placemat to differentiate from the table.  Patterned dishes and tablecloths can confuse and frustrate.
  4. Serve only one or two items. Too many food options can overwhelm. Try to serve a single dish at a time.  Always double-check the temperature of the food as your loved one may find it difficult to determine if food or drinks are too hot.
  5. Tastes change. Sense of smell and taste can change as the disease progresses. Favorite foods may no longer be tolerated.  Remember that they are not trying to be difficult, but food that was once appetizing may no longer be appealing to them. Be patient and test new meal options in a variety of flavors and textures to encourage eating.
  6. Food prep. As the disease progresses, your loved one may have trouble with handling a fork, chewing food thoroughly, and even difficulty swallowing. If dexterity is an issue, try bite-sized pieces and easy to pick up finger foods such as cubes of soft cheese, chicken nuggets, and fish sticks.  To make food easy to chew and swallow, try mashing or grinding up food, serve fruit in a smoothie, or make soft food such as scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, applesauce, and yogurt.  To avoid choking have your loved one sit up straight with their head tilted forward.
  7. Thirst decreases.  Your loved one may forget to drink water or liquids. Encourage plenty of fluids throughout the day.  Serve food that is higher in water content such as fruit, soups, milkshakes, or smoothies.  Dehydration has been known to contribute to behavioral issues and increase confusion.
  8. Forgetting to Eat. A loved one may forget that they have already eaten a meal or forget to eat altogether.  Getting enough nutrition and calories is essential for health, so providing regular meals, snacks, and beverages throughout the day is critical.  Keep a daily schedule of mealtimes and snacks, so meals are not skipped or forgotten.
  9. Visit the dentist. Ill-fitting dentures or a sore tooth can make eating painful, but your loved one may not be able to communicate this to you.  Visit the dentist regularly to ensure that teeth and gums are healthy, and dentures fit properly.
  10. Medications. Side effects of medication can cause a decrease in appetite.  Discuss dietary concerns and weight loss with your physician, especially if they are on a new medication or a dosage has changed.

At Aegis Living, we understand the importance of meals, not only for nutrition but also for the comaraderie found around the table.   Our chef-prepared meals are nutritionally balanced and appetizing for our residents.   We offer delicious snacks and drinks throughout the day to keep our residents hydrated and satisfied.  We encourage you and your family to tour one of our assisted living and memory care communities today and join us for lunch.

Profile image of Constance Schein, RN

Constance Schein, RN

Former Senior Vice President of Clinical and Health Services

Constance Schein is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of nursing experience in senior-focused healthcare organizations. She led Aegis Living’s major nursing and care initiatives and was responsible for managing and developing healthcare partnerships, technology, and wellness programs to improve resident care.

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