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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!