A balanced and nourishing diet is vital for longevity. But for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, changes in eating habits and a lack of appetite can affect the desire to eat a varied, healthy diet.
If your loved one was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he or she may forget to drink or may not recognize that they are thirsty, leading to dehydration. Hydration is key in avoiding certain ailments, such as headaches, constipation or other issues exacerbated by dehydration.
While some weight loss for individuals with Alzheimer’s is common, it is important to learn the root cause, which may be treatable in some cases. Depression, difficulty communicating, dental pain, lack of physical activity, constipation or medication are just a few of the more common causes behind a lack of appetite and subsequent weight loss.
Thankfully, there are many ways to help increase and invigorate the appetite for someone who has Alzheimer’s or symptoms of cognitive decline. Simple changes such as a new variety of foods or drinks to choose from can enliven any meal.
Here are several mealtime tips to help care for a loved one whose appetite is diminishing.
- Make food portions smaller. Large meals can be overwhelming for individuals with cognitive decline. Use larger plates as it will appear that there is less food on the plate, making mealtime more manageable. Alternatively, prepare smaller, more frequent meals to encourage eating throughout the day. Have healthy snacks and finger foods on hand.
- Provide encouragement. If your loved one typically wears glasses, be sure he or she wears them at all meals so food items can be seen properly. As concentration becomes more difficult and loved ones become increasingly forgetful, meal times may feel longer. Encourage loved ones to eat more – don’t assume that they are full just because they have stopped eating. However, be careful not to pressure them.
- Use cooking aromas and visual aids. Baking and cooking foods that release scents into the home are good for stimulating appetites. For visual appeal, set a colorful table with solid-colored plates, napkins and placemats. A recent study at Boston University found that colored plates can visually stimulate weakened appetites, particularly when the plate color contrasts with the food’s color. Avoid patterned plates and linens as they can be distracting.
- Keep food the appropriate temperature. If the dish is meant to be hot or warm and has become cold, reheat it in the microwave to make it more appetizing. Likewise, if a cold dish has warmed up, replace it with something else.
- Have favorite foods on hand. Family members know their loved one’s food preferences best, as well as their dental restrictions or other medical conditions that may prevent certain foods from being enjoyed. Keep their favorite foods handy in case they dislike the meal presented to them.
- Make the meal a social event. Encourage your loved one to help set the table before mealtime to promote collaboration and activity. Meal time can be an opportunity for social interaction and friendly visits. Encourage a relaxed environment without too much noise or distraction.
As the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia progress, food recognition overall may diminish and a loved one may be more likely to need assistance with meal time. As part of our commitment to healthy aging, we provide our caregivers with ongoing training on nutrition and advanced care needs so that we can provide the best care for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. For more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia care, please call 1-866-454-8346.