Helping an Adult with Dementia Maintain a Healthy Diet

Sunrise Senior Living  |  October 7, 2019
Helping an Adult with Dementia Maintain a Healthy Diet
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Caring for a senior loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease requires figuring out how to overcome unique challenges. One is making mealtime go smoothly. For example, an adult with Alzheimer’s might have trouble manipulating silverware or staying focused on tasks associated with eating. Identifying challenges and developing strategies to work around them are key to helping an older adult with Alzheimer’s maintain healthy nutrition.

Common Mealtime Struggles for Seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease

A few mealtime struggles common among people with Alzheimer’s disease include:

  1. Decreased appetite: A senior with Alzheimer’s might not recognize their body’s hunger triggers. They may also take a medication that could cause loss of appetite. Finding ways to stimulate their appetite may be necessary.
  2. Oral health issues: Gum disease or a change in weight that causes dentures not to fit may be difficult to detect in a senior who has impaired verbal communication skills. If you can correct the underlying oral health issue, mealtime can go more smoothly.
  3. Short attention span: Having trouble sitting down and focusing on eating is another common struggle. It can be worse if the senior is also experiencing agitation or anxiety. Creating a distraction-free environment for mealtimes is vital.
  4. Problems with coordination: Most adults with Alzheimer’s disease will eventually experience problems with hand-eye coordination. That can make mealtime harder for them physically and emotionally. Finding solutions that make the physical act of eating easier can prevent low self-esteem and a loss of dignity.

Promoting Mealtime Success for Adults with Alzheimer’s

Fortunately, there are ways you can structure the environment and menu to allow a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease to feel successful, including:

  • Eliminating distractions: Establish a place to eat that is peaceful and free from distractions. Turn off the television and turn on calming music. Create a place where you and your senior loved one can sit quietly and enjoy meals together.
  • Using bright place settings: Sometimes vision changes make mealtime more challenging. A brightly colored place mat with a contrasting color of plate makes it easier to distinguish the food on the plate. Avoid busy patterns on plates and linens. The Red Plate Study at Boston University found when adults with Alzheimer’s eat meals served on red plates, they eat 25 percent more than those given white plates. Researchers believe it’s because Alzheimer’s causes a loss of depth perception, as well as difficulty distinguishing things when contrast is low.
  • Serving foods individually: Another way to keep a loved one with Alzheimer’s focused during meals is by serving one food group at a time. Once the senior finishes one course, add the next to their plate. Serve nutrient-rich foods first to make sure they are eaten before attention span is lost.
  • Using adaptive serving pieces: Utilizing adaptive utensils and serving food in bowls is another tip for making meals go more smoothly. Spoons also require less coordination than forks. Finger foods are another option. Cut them into bite-sized pieces so the senior doesn’t choke.
  • Modeling good mealtime behavior: If you can, eat meals with your family member. Model the behavior you want them to follow, such as drinking a healthy smoothie or eating a salad. It also allows you to discreetly assist them if necessary.
  • Serving enticing foods: You may also be able to keep your senior loved one interested in food longer if it not only looks good but smells great, too. Preparing foods your family member always enjoyed might be a great place to start.

At Sunrise communities, we understand the value of good nutrition and strive to help seniors learn more about it, too. Our Senior Eats articles are filled with helpful resources ranging from using aromatherapy to stimulate appetite to planning healthy meals for one. We hope you will read and share them with friends!


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