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Persons with dementia do not require a special diet. Just like everyone else, they follow the same basic rules of proper nutrition. The only difference is that the latter’s deteriorating cognitive function makes eating independently and mealtimes challenging.

Why is eating and mealtimes difficult for dementia patients?

When tending to a loved one with dementia, you must acknowledge the following factors that might cause his loss of appetite.

A decrease in appetite. This situation is normal for any aging person. But dementia patients may feel less hungry because of his deteriorating body signal. He may also have difficulty in chewing or swallowing.

Inability to recognize food. As his condition deteriorates, the person may no longer recognize the food you serve him.

A decrease in sense of taste and smell. The person may not feel like eating because the food does not taste or smell as good as it was.

Poor fitting dentures. When communicating becomes difficult for your loved one, he could not tell you if his dentures are hurting him. Instead, he would just refuse to eat. Make sure, therefore, that his dentures fit well. Bring him to the dentist regularly.

Mind the medication. There are certain medications that may affect the person’s appetite. Report to his doctor whatever change you may notice in your loved one’s eating habits. Some dementia medications can cause constipation. Likewise, there are food and drinks that may keep his medicines from working.

Lack of exercise. Not having enough physical activity may lead the person to lose appetite and to constipate. Ensure that your loved one does simple exercises daily, like going for a walk, gardening, or any simple chores to keep him active.

Building a meal plan for your loved one with dementia

Once the person has dementia, his ability to prepare meals and eat independently becomes too difficult. And, this situation can be frustrating not only to him. But also to his care provider.

To make things easier, you can build a meal plan for your loved one to keep him well-nourished. Just remember the basics of nutrition.

Feed him with a variety of foods. Whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables are highly recommended for a balanced diet.

Control his intakes of high saturated fat and cholesterol, such as fried foods, fatty meats, solid shortening, butter, and lard. Remember, not all fats are good for the heart’s health.

Reduce the person’s consumption of refined sugars. Know that refined sugar does not contain vitamins, minerals, and fibers. What it has, instead, is calories. In case your loved one wants to have some sweets, you may give him fruits or juice-sweetened baked products.

Refrain from serving your loved one with too much salt. Too much sodium consumption affects his blood pressure. You may season his food with herbs and spices instead.

Let him drink plenty of water. A person with dementia has the tendency to not drink enough water. This is because his body’s signal system for thirst is no longer as strong as it was before the disease. Some medicines, too, can dry his mouth.

Watch for weight loss. Since the person with dementia tends to lose appetite or less thirsty, he is at risk of losing too much weight. And this may lead to other health problems. To prevent this situation from happening, help your loved one get enough nutrition.

Prepare foods that are easy to pick up, chew and swallow. Bite-sized foods like fish sticks, tuna sandwich, chicken nuggets, orange slices, and steamed broccoli or cauliflower are some of the items that are easy to handle. If chewing and swallowing are difficult for him, serve him soft foods like scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, or applesauce. Or, you may grind his meals. Also, take into consideration his personal food preferences. And be ready when he suddenly develop new food choices and reject those he used to like.

Serve the person some snacks or smaller meals more often. Consider that he may not remember when or if he has eaten and so he might continue asking for breakfast. In this case, serve him several breakfasts- one at a time. You may start by giving him juice. Then, give him a toast, and followed by a cereal. Allowing your loved one to eat 5 or 6 times a day may be easier than serving him the same amount of food in three meals.

Eat together. It is more enjoyable to be eating in the company of others. Make his mealtime a social event so that he may look forward to it.

Make sure that your loved one is comfortable with the utensils or dishes he is using. A spoon with a big handle and a bowl may be easier for him to use than a fork and plate. Or, perhaps, he’s more comfortable eating with his hands. Don’t worry about the mess he may make.

Allow the person to eat independently as much as possible. But, be ready to help when needed. Give him enough time to eat, even if it means an hour or longer to finish his meal. Tell him to chew and swallow his food carefully.

Give him a daily dose of multivitamins. But, make sure that these supplements are under the recommendation of his physician.

Poor nutrition is likely to cause or increase behavioral symptoms among dementia patients. As a caregiver, you must be keen on their eating patterns. The above nutrition tips can help boost the health of both your loved one and you.

Enjoyed the article? 

You can find more great content here:

How To Handle Difficult Dementia Behaviors

About the author 

Dr Michael Chua PT, DPT

Dr Michael Chua is a physical therapist practising in Home Health, Skilled Nursing Facilities and Acute Care Hospital. His clinical interest involves pain management, geriatrics and dementia management. He enjoys treating patients and bringing out the best in them using positive treatment approaches, his dynamic work setting in a rural area provides an opportunity to treat a wide range from geriatrics to orthopaedics.

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