As we age, natural physiological changes can make it harder to achieve optimal nutrition from the food we eat. Changes in our sense of taste and smell may decrease our appetite, or mobility limitations might make it difficult to spend time in the kitchen preparing a meal. For those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, declining cognitive function can make mealtimes even harder.
According to Carmen Duren, Executive Director at Provident Village at Canton, “Those with Alzheimer’s disease often struggle with actions and activities during mealtimes that we usually take for granted. With memory loss, using utensils, holding a glass, swallowing and even having the desire to eat become challenges. These once-simple daily tasks must be modified and special care taken to make sure those with Alzheimer’s eat safely and get the proper nutrients they need to stay well.”
When it comes to eating safely and healthily, those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or memory loss need to keep in mind their loved one’s changes in appetite, decreasing skills and difficulties with chewing or swallowing (in severe cases, a medical condition called dysphagia) in order to make meals as easy and beneficial as possible.
A Researched-Based Recipe for Safe, Nutritious Meals
Helping a loved one with memory loss have a safe eating experience requires foresight, keen observation and patience. The Alzheimer’s Association’s article “Food, Eating and Alzheimer’s” lists several suggestions for making mealtimes easier while minimizing eating and nutrition problems. These can be categorized into three main areas on which caregivers can focus.
Help Increase Their Appetite
- Add spices to boost flavor – Food may not taste or smell like it once did. Increasing flavor can make eating more enjoyable.
- Encourage simple exercise – A lack of physical activity means fewer calories are burned, which may decrease a loved one’s appetite. Take them for a walk or do some gardening.
- Pay attention to dental care – Poorly fitting dentures or a toothache may be making chewing a painful experience, and your loved one may not be able to communicate the cause. Visit the dentist regularly and ensure dentures fit properly.
- Monitor medication changes – New medications or dosages might affect one’s appetite. Call the doctor if you notice a change.
- Be aware of changing food preferences – As your loved one’s memory loss progresses, understand that foods they used to enjoy might be rejected, and they might like eating different foods than they did in the past.
Compensate for Decreasing Skills
- Utilize contrast – Declining visual and spatial abilities might make it hard to distinguish food from the plate. Use plain white dishes and avoid patterns on table linens.
- Check food temperature – Your loved one may not be able to tell if their food is too hot. Always check the temperature before serving to avoid discomfort or burns.
- Adapt to their abilities – Make eating easier by substituting dishes and utensils. For example, serve food in a bowl rather than a plate, or give them a large spoon instead of a fork.
- Serve smaller, more frequent meals – Your loved one might not remember eating throughout the day. To avoid confusion or frustration, serve smaller meals, one food at a time, e.g., toast, then cereal, then some fruit.
Make Food Easier to Chew and Swallow
- Serve finger foods – Serve bite-sized options that are easy to pick up and eat. Orange slices, chicken nuggets and steamed broccoli are good choices.
- Prepare food with swallowing in mind – Mince, dice or chop foods to make them easier to swallow. If your loved one has severe difficulties, it might be necessary to purée foods and serve only soft options (applesauce, mashed potatoes, yogurt, etc.).
- Keep beverages at hand – Provide a drink after each bite to assist with safe swallowing.
- Watch for signs of choking – Encourage your loved one to sit up straight during meals. Afterwards, check their mouth for remaining food. Learn the Heimlich in case of emergencies.
Since everyone with Alzheimer’s experiences symptoms differently, caregivers should try several options and be creative to find the methods that work best for their loved one’s nutritional health, safety and enjoyment.
Specialized Care for Safe Eating – Served Daily
At Provident Village at Canton, team members are trained to provide special care for Alzheimer’s residents, ensuring that they enjoy a safe, healthy eating experience. Duren states, “We do our best to make dining a pleasurable and enriching part of every day. We partner with Strategic Dining Services, culinary experts in senior living dining, who create delicious meals packed with nutrients that accommodate any dietary need, such as difficulty swallowing. And, our staff is always available to personally assist residents during a meal.
“We take every step to give families peace of mind in knowing their loved ones are eating right for their overall health. Family members and friends are always welcome to join us for meals. Additionally, Provident Village utilizes state-of-the-art technological tools to share real-time data with families who aren’t able to be there. We can track and evaluate eating trends so we know whether and when to implement specific care plans to ensure our memory care residents’ optimal nutritional health.”
Live Vibrantly! at Provident Village at Canton
At Provident Village at Canton, we believe vibrant days ensure bright tomorrows, so we’ve created a community where seniors, quite simply, Live Vibrantly! Whether it’s in our Assisted Living Community or Memory Care Neighborhood, each day we celebrate the individuality and strengths of each resident.
At Provident Village, to Live Vibrantly! means that days are filled with joy, vitality, growth and security. It means residents are socially active and personally empowered, with access to the personalized care and support they need to live fully. It means residing in a community where intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical care are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Our compassionate Care Partners dedicate each day to enriching the lives of our residents. They customize the level of attention and activities to each resident’s specific needs and abilities. Our living environments are warm and inviting, with comfortable furnishings, beautiful fixtures and natural elements that bring the outdoors inside.