5 Ways to Get Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia to Eat

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Eating is one of the most challenging activities of daily living for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. For caregivers, it can be heartbreaking to watch a loved one struggle to enjoy a meal. As a person’s cognitive ability declines, food often becomes overwhelming or unappealing. People with Alzheimer’s often have trouble recognizing what foods on their plates, or develop aversion to certain color foods. Sometimes, they will develop unusual appetites, by binging on sweets or wanting a hot dog at 7 a.m. for instance. To make things worse, people with Alzheimer’s or dementia often have a diminished sense of smell and taste.

But not eating enough can lead to additional problems for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, such as behavioral symptoms or unhealthy weight loss. Here are five tips to make mealtime easier for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their caregivers:

1. Rule out other possible causes of a poor appetite

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, other things  might be to blame for a declining appetite. Potential causes may include: ill-fitting dentures, medication side effects, and a lack of exercise.

2. Limit distractions

Keep mealtime as simple a task as possible. Caregivers can encourage their loved one to eat by minimizing unnecessary distractions, like turning off televisions or other noises, keeping the table setting as minimal as possible, serving just one or two foods at a time, and avoiding conversation to focus on eating.

3. Minimize physical roadblocks

Caregivers can eliminate challenges by using easy-to-use dishes and utensils. Make the most of a person’s abilities by adapting meals and the utensils required to eat them. For instance, eating with a large spoon may be easier for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia than using a fork and knife; a bowl or a plate with protective rims can help prevent accidents. Additionally, caregivers can experience mealtime success by serving more finger foods, such as berries, nuts, or vegetables.

4. Focus on preparation…

Cutting foods into small, bite-size pieces makes eating far less intimidating to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Caregivers can also opt to puree or grind food, or serve more naturally soft foods such as apple sauce, mashed potatoes, or scrambled eggs. Additionally, avoid serving three standard big meals a day, and rather serve small snacks or light meals more frequently to make eating seem like an accomplishable task for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

5. …And presentation, too

A study conducted at Boston University found that people with Alzheimer’s eating food served on bright red plates ate 25 percent more food than people who ate food served on white plates. Researchers believe this is because people with Alzheimer’s could better visually process the food on a darker plate, because it increased contrast and depth perception, making the food easier to see and thus, more appealing to eat. Beyond plate color, other presentation factors can help at mealtime: adding variety to the color of food, experimenting with different food textures, and more can all help. Caregivers should also eat with their loved one, making eye contact during meals and praising the taste of the food to encourage eating.

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