If your loved one has dementia, you may notice a change in their eating habits. While this can be frustrating, it is normal for dementia patients to experience changes. As cognitive function declines, you may find that your loved one becomes overwhelmed at meal time, they may forget how to use utensils, and they may just refuse to eat.
While it may be normal for this to happen as dementia progresses, getting your loved one to eat a balanced and nutritional diet can help keep them healthy and may improve behavior.
So how can you help your loved one improve their eating habits?
Six Things You Can Do to Improve Eating Habits
Help Them Get Moving
If your loved one is not moving much during the day they may not be hungry. Helping and encouraging them to be active can help. This can be in the form of a slow walk or, if possible, some gardening. An activity they enjoy will help them move more and may increase their appetite.
Let Them Eat Cake
Ok, not all the time, but letting loved ones eat things they enjoy isn’t going to hurt them. Their food tastes may have changed due to dementia or age. Help them to try different foods. You can also try stewed fruits or other dishes that are sweet but still help to fill in the nutrient gap.
Shakes Can Help
Protein or nutrition shakes can also help fill in nutritional gaps. If your loved one won’t eat anything at all, a shake might be preferable. There are many shakes available that can help with calorie replacement and also help with the vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy and happy.
Make it Social
Sometimes making eating a social activity can help. This may be eating with others they are living with or it may involve you visiting at meal time. If you do visit at meal time, encourage talk about food. If they had a favorite dish they used to cook or a meal they loved, talk about those things with them.
Check the Community Meal Habits
Placing your loved one in a memory care community can be hard, but making sure the right things are happening will help head off any issues. Be sure the community has regular mealtime hours. Also grouping residents together with their eating abilities in mind can help. If your loved one needs help with their utensils, make sure they will be getting that help at regular meal times.
It can be hard to be patient, but if your loved one is having trouble eating, rushing them won’t help. Sit with them, keep eye contact but remain quiet and calm. Try this and see if it helps, sometimes that quiet encouragement can make a world of difference to a memory care patient.
If you are choosing a memory care community, be sure to ask how meals work and how staff can help encourage your loved one at meal time.