As those who are providing care for a person with dementia know, sometimes making sure that your loved one is getting the nutrition that he or she needs can be difficult. It’s not that a person with dementia is being contrary or stubborn: he or she may have some good reasons for not wanting to eat at a given time.
For example, sometimes dementia interferes with how hunger affects a person: the mechanism that says, “you are hungry and need to eat” doesn’t always work properly. Some people may also lose memories that help them to register that they like certain foods, making them less likely to be interested in the prospect of eating. In addition, the mechanics associated with eating may become more foreign and less second nature to a person with dementia.
Many caregivers have developed excellent strategies for making sure that their loved ones with memory issues still get the nutrition they need. Here are a few tips that can come in handy:
- Don’t concentrate on three meals a day. Often, a caregiver can achieve better results by scheduling several small meals over the course of the day rather than sticking to a strict breakfast-lunch-dinner routine. Find the number of meals and snacks that works best, then build your routine around that.
- Keep things fluid. Dehydration can be a problem, so find times when you can offer water or other appropriate liquids; avoid caffeine, as it can worsen dehydration and can contribute to sleeplessness and anxiety.
- Sneak in the calories. If your patient is in danger of becoming too thin, consult with a doctor on the best ways to pack on a couple of pounds. For example, you may want to add high-protein shakes to the daily routine.
- Make eating easy. If your patient has difficulty using utensils, prepare menus that are finger-friendly: sandwiches for lunch, or a whole apple for a snack, for example.
- Simple is better. Dementia and distractions don’t mix. Help keep your loved one focused on eating by turning off the TV when at the table. Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Instead of placing several serving dishes on the table, keep the dishes in the kitchen and bring only filled plates to the table.
- Be flexible. There are times when a person with dementia is simply going to be too agitated to eat. Trying to force a meal at these times can be counterproductive; do your best to wait out the mood.