What to Do When a Senior with Alzheimer’s Won’t Eat

What to Do When a Senior with Alzheimer’s Won’t Eat

Caregiving for a senior who has Alzheimer’s often involves overcoming a variety of unique challenges. One is making mealtimes go smoothly. Alzheimer’s disease can complicate some everyday activities, such as manipulating silverware or concentrating on the tasks associated with eating.

For some people with Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia, it results in poor nutrition and an unhealthy amount of weight loss. If you are struggling to get a family member with Alzheimer’s to eat healthy, it is essential to first identify your loved one’s difficulties and then develop strategies to accommodate them.


4 Reasons People with Alzheimer’s Won’t Eat


If you find yourself worried or frustrated about why your senior loved one won’t eat, know it is a familiar struggle for dementia caregivers. Because a loss of verbal skills makes communication challenging, the senior may not be able to express what the problem is. Some common problems to explore include:

  1. Loss of appetite: An adult with dementia might not recognize the body’s hunger signals. They aren’t interested in eating because they don’t feel hungry. Perhaps one of their medications diminishes their appetite. A loss of smell or taste can further exacerbate the problem.
  2. Problems with teeth or dentures: If the senior hasn’t been to the dentist in a while, there might be an undiagnosed oral health issue. A sore tooth or poorly fitting dentures might make chewing painful. Pay attention to their face when they eat. Do they grimace in pain? It may be something to discuss with a dentist.
  3. Decreased dexterity: Hand-eye coordination eventually becomes a challenge for adults with dementia. It can make mealtime physically and emotionally difficult. The frustration of being unable to use silverware can lead to lower self-esteem and loss of dignity. The senior may give up trying and not eat.
  4. Challenging environment: Difficulty concentrating is a common issue for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Distractions caused by a hectic or noisy environment can make sitting still long enough to eat impossible.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome each of these common problems.


Promoting Positive Mealtime Experiences for an Adult with Alzheimer’s


  1. Eliminate distractions: At mealtime, turn off the television and silence your cell phone. Try to eliminate as much background noise and distractions as possible. If your family member responds well to soft music, keep a few peaceful songs loaded and ready to play. It might also help to quietly sit with your family member while they eat. Providing a calm, distraction-free environment may improve their concentration and increase the amount of food they eat.
  2. Use helpful visuals: Sometimes vision issues make mealtime more difficult. You can make it easier for your family member to identify food on their plate by using a brightly colored placemat with a contrasting color of plate. That helps them distinguish the plate from the table and identify the food on the plate. Researchers also suggest using plain tableware and avoiding busy patterns. The Red Plate Study at Boston University found when people with Alzheimer’s are served meals on red plates, they eat 25% more than those who eat from white plates.
  3. Serve one food at a time: When a plate is full of several different food groups, the senior might find it distracting. Instead, serve one food group at a time. It might make it easier for them to focus and eat more. Serve the healthiest, nutrient-rich foods first, just in case you aren’t able to keep them at the table as long as you would like.
  4. Adapt tableware: Adaptive utensils with chunky handles and foods served in bowls might also make mealtime less of a struggle for someone with Alzheimer’s. Spoons require less coordination than forks. If that doesn’t help, finger foods are another option. Avoid foods that may be a choking hazard, such as hot dogs, celery, grapes, raw carrots, nuts, and popcorn.
  5. Model behavior: If possible, eat meals with your senior loved one. This allows you to model behavior for the senior to follow, such as eating their vegetables or drinking a glass of water. It will also allow you to discreetly help them eat, if needed.

Finally, as you are planning menus, include foods the senior likes and that look and smell inviting. That might encourage them to eat.


Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities


Dementia care programs are designed to support the unique needs of adults with memory impairment. At Heritage, we call ours The Terrace. We provide three nutritious homemade meals every day. Call the community nearest you to learn more today!

How to Help a Senior Parent Make New Friends

How to Help a Senior Parent Make New Friends

Dear Donna:

My mother is in the process of selling her home in Florida and relocating to Michigan to live with me. While she is excited to make the move, I know it won’t be easy for her. She has a lot of friends in her active living community. Moving will mean starting over.

How can I help her meet people her own age once she arrives? Any ideas would be appreciated.

Thank you for your help!

Steven in Saginaw, Michigan


Making Friends During Retirement


Dear Steven:

Maintaining a close circle of friends is essential at every age. From encouraging healthy habits to lending a friendly ear on difficult days, friends play a role in our quality of life.

Like your mother, older adults often move during retirement. Rebuilding their social circle might feel intimidating. Here are a few tips you can share with your mom after she’s settled in:

  • Volunteer for a nonprofit: One avenue to help your mom meet like-minded people is to volunteer. Help her choose an organization that matches her interests and talents. Her local United Way might be a good place to start searching for a volunteer opportunity.
  • Enroll in a class: Another way your mom can meet new people while also giving her brain a workout is a class. Parks, libraries, art museums, bakeries, and community colleges often offer workshops and classes. Some might give older adults a discount.
  • Connect with a fitness group: Friends often influence your health, for better or worse. Helping your mom find a group of fitness-conscious seniors to spend time with may keep her healthier and
  • Find a hobby-related club: Connecting over common interests is a great way to grow a friendship. If your mom is a gardener, for example, explore local garden clubs together. Think about her favorite pastimes and research them before she arrives.
  • Explore spiritual organizations: It’s common for older adults to take a greater interest in spiritual activities. Your mom might appreciate it if you help her find a church or synagogue. It will allow her to nurture her spirit and meet new people.
  • Join a senior center: Most cities and counties have senior centers. These nonprofit organizations host programs and activities for members every day. Getting involved will allow her to quickly expand her social network after the move.

With a little effort, your mom will likely find a host of ways to make the transition to Michigan go smoothly. Best of luck to both of you, Steven!

Kind regards,



Make New Friends at Heritage Senior Communities


Senior living communities are a great way for older adults to stay actively engaged in life. Formal and informal opportunities for connecting and staying active abound. Call the Heritage community nearest you and ask for a copy of a resident activity calendar. You’ll find activities for every hobby and interest!

National Wellness Month: 4 Steps to Successful Aging

National Wellness Month: 4 Steps to Successful Aging

The older you get, the more likely you are to pay attention to health and wellness. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet discovered the fountain of youth, despite what beauty ads say. Researchers do, however, have sound advice on steps you can take to look and feel your best as you grow older.


In honor of National Wellness Month, celebrated every August, we share some tips for living a healthier life.


4 Steps to a Healthier You


Here are some leading research-based steps you can incorporate into your life to look and feel better at every age.


  1. Stay social and engaged.

Pursuing new passions and reconnecting with old ones when you retire offers more benefits than being just plain fun. It could also lengthen your life. Socializing reduces the likelihood of isolation, keeps older adults active and less sedentary, and promotes a positive outlook.

Researchers who study the link between seniors and socialization have observed not just improvements in longevity but also in quality of life. They have even compared the benefits of being active in social groups to those of regular physical exercise.

But don’t cancel your fitness club membership! Our next tip is to get moving and stay active.


  1. Stand up and get moving.

Too much sitting is bad for your health. It makes you look and feel older. When you are physically fit and active, you reap a variety of rewards. Exercise decreases stress hormones which, in turn, make it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

You won’t need to pay for a gym membership or torture yourself jogging either. There are endless low-impact forms of exercise you can engage in at home or in your neighborhood. Walking, chair yoga, riding a recumbent bike, and gardening are a few to discuss with your primary care physician.

Limiting how much time you spend sitting every day also helps. Instead of sitting down to talk on the phone, for example, connect your smartphone to Bluetooth and walk while you talk.


  1. Eat nutritious foods.

A healthy diet is one of the most important steps you can take to age well. The struggle for many seniors is figuring out what that means. The MyPlate app has loads of great tools and tips for healthy-minded older adults.

Also talk with your doctor about adopting the Mediterranean Diet. It’s linked to lower bad cholesterol, fewer incidences of cancer, and a healthier heart. The good news is meals are simple and easy to prepare.


  1. Find healthy ways to manage stress.

Chronic stress negatively impacts health. It can contribute to high blood pressure, obesity, depression, and more. Some people pick up bad habits to cope, such as smoking or drinking too much. That can make the issue even worse.

Instead, learn how to manage stress in positive ways. Meditation, journaling, swimming, and gardening are a few ideas to explore.


Live Well at Heritage Senior Communities


From great food to a variety of daily life enrichment activities, residents of Heritage Senior Communities enjoy the best quality of life. Visit The Heritage Difference to learn what makes our communities so special!

Keeping a Senior Outdoorsman Safe in the Summer

Keeping a Senior Outdoorsman Safe in the Summer

Dear Donna:

My father has always loved nature and spending time outdoors. At 92, he’s still an avid outdoorsman. While I don’t want to squelch his enthusiasm, his safety is a big concern.

Dad is living with my husband and me and routinely heads outside on his own to birdwatch or walk through our woods. Do you have any tips for helping him stay independent but safe?


Stephanie in Traverse City, Michigan


Summer Safety and Older Adults


Dear Stephanie:

Good for your Dad! It’s likely that your father’s commitment to nature and physical activity keep him going strong at 92. Research shows a sedentary lifestyle can lead to early mortality. Some even say it’s as bad as smoking. But your concern for your father’s safety is understandable.

Here are a few suggestions to keep him healthy while providing peace of mind:

  • Provide sunscreen: Most of your father’s generation grew up not wearing sunscreen, so it’s essential to remind him to apply it. Sprays might be easier for him to manage on his own. Review these tips with your dad to highlight how important sunscreen is.
  • Stay on guard for ticks: As every outdoorsman knows, ticks make their return to Michigan woods and fields during warm months. A quality bug spray might help repel ticks. Also help your dad check his hair, body, and clothing for ticks when he comes back inside.
  • Encourage hydration: As we all know, Michigan summers can be hot and humid, even as far north as Traverse City. Make it easy for your dad to stay hydrated by keeping reusable water bottles filled and chilled in the refrigerator. Your dad can grab one on his way out the door. If he doesn’t like water, try adding lemon or berries for flavor.
  • Invest in quality footwear: While good footwear is important at every age, older adults should make it a high priority. Weaker ankles and unsteadiness caused by medications can be worse on uneven ground. Falls are the leading cause of serious injury among seniors. Help your father find a pair of shoes with good ankle support and strong soles.

One final suggestion is purchasing an emergency alert device for your father. There are a variety on the market and many are very discreet. They look like a sports watch but allow the wearer to call for help with the touch of a button. Most work off cellular technology that allows an active older adult like your dad to remain safe on the go.

I hope this information helps, Stephanie! And that you and your dad enjoy the rest of the summer.

Kind regards,



Heritage Senior Communities


With communities throughout Michigan and one in Indiana, Heritage Senior Communities has been family-owned for four generations. Each community operates on our uncompromising core values of honesty, quality, respect, teamwork, potential, and balance. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more!