A well-balanced diet is a cornerstone of any healthy lifestyle or wellness plan. Eating right can be a challenge for all of us at times. For your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, maintaining a healthy diet is not only especially important, but it can also be particularly challenging for a variety of reasons. Caregivers and kitchen staff in specialized communities like Iris Memory Care are accustomed to dealing with the various eating challenges that can accompany their residents’ decline in cognitive functions. If your loved one is still at home, there may be some unique challenges due to their surroundings. However, many people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia often have similar issues around diet and mealtimes.
Forgetting to eat, becoming easily distracted during mealtimes, and having difficulty with certain types of foods and utensils are all common sources of trouble for folks with Alzheimer’s and dementia. While there is no simple formula for overcoming such challenges, there are a few general guidelines that can be helpful to keep in mind.
Simple Settings & Surroundings
People with Alzheimer’s and dementia often have difficulty in situations where there is a lot going on. Whether it’s the sights or sounds in the room or clutter on the table in front of them, they can become very easily distracted and even upset from excessive external stimuli. Background noise from the television, radio, or appliances can be unsettling during mealtimes. Likewise, people moving about the room, clutter on the table, or even just placemats and settings with many different patterns and colors can make it difficult for them to focus on the food on their plate. Keeping the environment simple and peaceful during meals can help your loved one remain calm and focused on eating the food that’s in front of them. Having said that, through some trial and error, you might find that certain things like relaxing background music can also be helpful.
Even without Alzheimer’s or dementia, many seniors have trouble with certain foods. If they wear dentures, partials, or implants, beef and other coarse foods may be difficult to chew. Of course, it probably goes without saying, but you should keep in mind any food allergies when planning meals and snacks. When preparing meals for your loved one, it’s probably best to stick to foods that have stood the test of time. While many of us enjoy trying new recipes for our own meals, people with Alzheimer’s or dementia are less likely to dig into something unfamiliar.
Sticking to a schedule and having routines around meals and snacks is generally a good plan for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. While they may not remember that it’s time for lunch or be paying attention to the clock per se, most people with Alzheimer’s and dementia can become accustomed to some level of daily routine with the help of a loved one or professional caregiver.
Although a healthy diet with ample protein and vitamin-rich foods is critical to maintaining good overall health, folks with Alzheimer’s and dementia, in general, seem to respond quite well to sweet foods for dessert or snacks. As we age, our taste buds die. One of the last taste buds to die are our sweet receptors, so sweet foods are often one of the few things older adults can taste. Used reasonably, tasty treats can be a useful component of a well-rounded meal and snack plan. In particular, folks with Alzheimer’s and dementia seem to love ice cream more often than not. At Iris Senior Living, we like to offer ice cream fortified with extra protein to increase the nutritional value.