How Caregivers Can Make Mealtime a Success
If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you know that mealtimes can be challenging. Depending on the phase they are in, they can have problems remembering to eat or have problems swallowing. Caregivers need to find ways to manage their changing needs.
Guidelines to Helping Someone with Dementia Get Proper Nutrition, Regardless of the Phase They Are In
Early Stage Dining
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the goal is to maintain good hydration and nutritional status, while preserving maximum independence. Over time, the elder may begin decreasing the food variety in their diet or occasionally forget to eat or forget they have eaten and eat again.
Some caregiver interventions for successful nutrition include:
- Keep non-perishable snacks, juice and water in sight
- Provide a variety of fluids
- Provide a variety of nutritious foods and snacks
- Assist with grocery lists and shopping
Middle Stage of Dementia Dining
As dementia progresses, the elder may forget to eat, may not recognize utensils or may not remember how to use them properly. They might also have a diminished sense of smell and lose interest in food. The goal is still to maintain good hydration, adequate nutritional status and a healthy body weight.
Some caregiver interventions may include:
- Provide supervision at mealtime
- Sit at eye level at the table and make eye contact when assisting
- Demonstrate eating by dining with the elder
- Encourage self-feeding
- Offer nutritious finger foods such as sandwiches, bananas, chicken nuggets, cut fruit, etc.)
- Avoid foods that are difficult to chew or swallow (nuts, popcorn, chewy candy)
- Offer 5-6 small meals instead of 3 large meals
- Provide large handled spoon instead of a fork
- Give simple, step-by-step verbal cues, if necessary (i.e. pick up your spoon, put food on it, raise it to your mouth,”)
- Make the meal as easy as possible – open containers, cut food into small pieces, etc.
Dining in the Late Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
In the later sates of Alzheimer’s disease, the elder may not recognize food or know what to do with it. They may have little awareness of food in their mouth or forget to swallow, or become less capable of swallowing. At some point, their doctor and family members may need to discuss the option of using a feeding tube. Here are some feeding tactics prior to taking that step.
- Offer liquid nutritional supplements
- Gently move their chin to remind them to chew
- Offer soft-cooked or pureed foods
- After the meal, check their mouth for leftover food
- Maintain good oral hygiene
- Allow as much time as needed for maximum nutrition
- Feed with dignity – do not treat them like a child
Progressing through the stages of Alzheimer’s disease can be incredibly challenging for a family. One of the most challenging issues is nutrition, since it directly impacts their health. Hopefully these tips will make mealtimes run more smoothly.