Good nutrition can be challenging for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Patients may lose track of mealtimes, skip meals or simply eat or drink less than they used to. They may forget how to use utensils, not recognize certain foods, have difficulty chewing and swallowing, or lose their appetites due to medications or diminishing enjoyment of food.
Poor nutrition can lead to increased agitation, unhealthy weight loss, weakness, lowered immunity and dehydration. Making meals healthy, easy and pleasant can help individuals with Alzheimer’s maintain good nutrition. Here’s a few quick tips.
- Variety is important to healthy eating and this means plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein.
- Sugar, salt and high-fat options such as fried foods should be kept to a minimum.
- Be mindful of maintaining good hydration with plenty of water throughout the day.
- Encourage exercise or physical activity to help stimulate appetite.
- Make sure patients are comfortable and functional. For example, adjust ill-fitting dentures to improve comfort.
- Consider more finger foods like chicken nuggets or precutting foods like fruits or vegetables.
- Try different utensils. Smaller food pieces can be picked up with a large-handled spoon or even with the hands.
- Several smaller meals in a day may be less frustrating than dealing with fewer large meals
- Prepare softer foods to help alleviate swallowing difficulty.
- Associate meals with social interaction and enjoyment.
- Keep mealtimes on a schedule with a regular routine to reduce anxiety or any sense of surprise around mealtimes.
- Limit all distractions and excessive decorations on the table or in the dining area which can cause confusion.
- Make sure the television is off and that the focus is on the meal and on social engagement.
- Make sure there is plenty of unrushed time for eating.
Good nutrition helps keep all of us healthy and happy. For people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, good nutrition is especially important to help maintain a quality of life for as long as possible that includes a strong body, balanced emotions and an experience of independence and enjoyment.