Dining with Your Loved One who has Advanced Dementia
Helping your loved one with dementia with eating can be difficult, but we know the importance of good nutrition and hydration. Here are some tips and tricks to hopefully make the process more successful for everyone!
Difficulties with eating the meal – Utensils & Swallowing
People with dementia may have difficulty picking up items such as cutlery or a glass. They may also have trouble putting food into their mouth, so sometimes even if normally you would use a fork, perhaps try offering a spoon. A person with dementia may also not open their mouth as food approaches and may need reminding to do so. This could lead them to avoid mealtimes because they are embarrassed by their difficulties or want to avoid struggling. One tip for this is to serve finger foods or try weighted cutlery, a concept designed specifically to help those who struggle feeding themselves or anyone who struggles with tremors.
As dementia progresses, they may get dysphagia or swallowing difficulties. These may include the person chewing continuously or holding food in their mouth. Swallowing difficulties can lead to weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration. If the person is drowsy or lying down, they may struggle to swallow safely which may cause them to choke.
We have found the following tips can be a helpful reminder:
Make sure the person is fully awake, comfortable and sitting upright before you offer food and drink. You should try and avoid giving foods that the person has difficulty chewing. Also, sometimes it is a nice reminder for everyone to slow down the chewing process. Remind them to take their time and after a couple bites take a drink!
Good dental and oral hygiene are important. If the person has painful gums or teeth, or has mouth ulcers, then chewing will be uncomfortable and difficult. If the person wears dentures, make sure they are comfortable and fitted properly.
If the person is having difficulties chewing or swallowing, talk to a physician about a referral to a speech/language therapist. They can diagnose swallowing difficulties and give advice. In the meantime, try softer choices such as scrambled egg or stewed apple first, before considering pureed food. If the speech and language therapist does advise pureed food, seek advice from a dietitian too to make sure it is nutritious and has enough flavor.
Difficulties with eating the meal – Eyesight
If the person with dementia has problems with their sight, they may not be able to see the food. It’s important not to assume that the person isn’t hungry if they don’t start eating. The following tips may help:
- Make sure the person is wearing the correct glasses.
- If they are not able to see the food in front of them, it may help to describe the food to the person.
- Make sure the environment is well lit, so they can see everything.
- Choose contrasting, plain colors for the food, plate, and table (for example a green tablecloth, a red plate and mashed potato).
- If you leave a drink out for someone, describe where it is so that they can find it.
As people get older, they often begin to lose their sense of taste and smell, which can lead to food tasting less pleasant. People with dementia may begin to want more sugar and salt in their food, and it’s common for them to begin eating more sweet foods. People with dementia may also enjoy unusual flavor combinations or ways of eating. Often people mix sweet and savory food and flavors. So long as they are eating, it tastes good to them, and it is not hurting them, this is okay! They may also start to have a less varied diet, only eating certain types of food. The person may also lose the ability to judge the temperature of food, so be careful of giving the person hot food or drinks that could burn their mouth and make eating uncomfortable.
Have fun and try to enjoy it!
Dining with your loved one who struggles with Dementia of any kind may be new, but it doesn’t have to be the end of family meals. While it may seem a bit stressful at first, you’ll be back to sharing memories over a table full of food before you know it!
For more information on how to improve the dining experience with your loved one we recommend alzheimers.org/uk or alzfdn.org as both sites contain a ton of information!