Dementia and Nutrition
By Ava M. Stinnett
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for people with dementia. Poor nutrition can result in dehydration, reduced muscle strength, and, in some cases, an increase in behavioral symptoms.
Some people with dementia experience problems with eating and drinking. Common reasons include difficulty communicating their likes and dislikes; pain due to constipation or poorly fitting dentures; a change in medication that reduces appetite; or not recognizing the food placed in front of them. It can be a challenge to determine what the problem is, especially if the person is unable to verbalize it.
Making a few changes can help make mealtime less stressful.
- Limit the number of food items on a plate. Too many foods at once may be overwhelming.
- If someone is not eating well, sticking with what is familiar and avoiding the introduction of new foods into the diet is recommended.
- Check the food temperature. A person with dementia may not know if something is too hot to eat or drink. On the other hand, if food goes cold, it could seem less appetizing.
- Prepare food that is easy to pick up. Loss of motor skills can make using utensils difficult. If the person appears to be struggling, chop food into smaller bites that can be eaten with a spoon.
- Provide plenty of time to eat. People with dementia can tire easily, and it may appear that they have stopped eating. Don’t force a clean plate. Instead, gently encourage them to eat and remind them what the food is.
- For those who traditionally start a meal with prayer, not doing so might make it difficult for them to begin the meal.
- Increase fluid intake by offering soups, gelatin, and popsicles. Occasionally, changing the presentation of beverages can make a difference (e.g., using a cup with a straw, using a sippy cup). Maintaining adequate hydration is very important as dehydration can lead to further challenges with cognition.
- People with advanced dementia may need a prompt (such as putting the fork or spoon in their hand) along with verbal cues to begin eating.
- Watch to make sure food is chewed completely to avoid choking.
- When possible, make meals a social event by eating together.
- Eliminate distractions as much as possible and keep the atmosphere relaxed.
Recent studies have linked deficiencies in vitamins B12 and D as well as Omega-3 fatty acids with people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, use only vitamin supplements recommended by a physician.
With just a few changes, a caregiver can ensure the person they are caring for enjoys their food and eats a healthy, balanced diet.
Have a wonderful July,