Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is crucial for optimal physical and mental health. However, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can negatively impact a person’s ability and desire to eat and drink, causing them to fall short of their daily nutritional requirements and leading to weight loss, mood changes, and dehydration. Their immune system may also become fragile, inhibiting their ability to recover from infections or viruses. Dehydration can also lead to delirium.
The situation can also cause stress and frustration for family caregivers trying to sustain the person’s well-being. However, it’s important to remember that if the person is not eating as a result of cognitive impairment, it’s not their fault. This progressive condition is attacking their brain, triggering this and many other behavioural changes.
Here is how Amzheimer’s disease and dementia can affect your loved one’s eating habits, and how you can help them get the nutrition they need to sustain their health.
Decreased ability to shop for and prepare meals
Many people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia experience difficulty with everyday tasks, such as food shopping, even if they have done it easily for decades. They might also get lost in the supermarket, or while travelling there or back home. Meal prep is something else that the person might have forgotten how to do safely.
You can help by taking them shopping and preparing meals for them in advance. You can also hire a professional caregiver who can take care of all the shopping and cooking for you.
People diagnosed with dementia may forget to eat or drink, which may cause them to skip meals or become dehydrated. They may also forget that they’ve already had a meal, leading them to overeat.
Encourage them to use an alarm to remind them when it’s time to eat or drink water when you can’t be there to supervise. You can also call just before mealtime to remind them it’s time to eat. Labelling the food/food container might work too, depending on the person’s condition.
Dementia can cause your loved one to have problems communicating. This means they may be unable to tell you that they’re hungry, the food is too hot, or they don’t like the texture or flavor. They may also be experiencing oral pain or discomfort that makes eating unpleasant. In these cases, the person might communicate through actions such as spitting the food out or refusing to eat.
Try using prompts or cue cards to help the person communicate what they would like to eat, if they’re hungry, or if they’re experiencing pain or are unhappy with the food.
Difficulty with motor control
Many people with dementia can have problems with motor functions such as chewing, swallowing, or hand-eye coordination. As a result, they might become frustrated and stop eating altogether.
Serving soft food such as eggs, fish, mashed potatoes, porridge, slow-cooked stews, and foods in sauces can help because they don’t require a lot of effort to chew or swallow. If the person is having difficulty using utensils to bring food to their mouth, encourage them to use their hands to eat. Almost all food can be finger food! However, if the person is having significant difficulty with motor control, you can feed them something pureed for easy ingestion.
A loss of appetite can also be a sign of depression, which is common in people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Many of the symptoms of depression also present themselves in people with dementia.
If you suspect your loved one has dementia, make an appointment for them to see their doctor as soon as possible for a diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Lack the ability to focus
Many people with dementia sometimes lack the ability to focus and have difficulty concentrating on a meal all the way through. They may appear listless or distracted after only one or two bites, appearing to forget that the food is there.
Consider changing mealtimes to when the person is most attentive so they can get as much nutrition as possible. Another effective strategy is to have someone, who can prompt the person to eat, dine with them.
Changes in medication
The person’s change in appetite can be the result of a switch of their medication or an adjusted dosage. If you suspect this might be the cause, talk to your loved one’s pharmacist or doctor for advice.
Lack of physical activity
If the person is not being active and burning calories during the day, they may not feel hungry at mealtimes. Encourage them to be more active by accompanying them on a short walk if it’s safe to do so. You can also help them try yoga or get them dancing – anything that results in movement will help them feel hungry later on.
Dining with our loved ones should be a pleasure. With a patient, empathetic approach, you can help preserve your loved one’s health and keep mealtime something to look forward to every day
Caregiving is hard work, but remember you’re not alone in this. CareHop is ready to help with professional eldercare services your family can count on.
Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton
CareHop specializes in providing quality eldercare services when your family needs support to help your elderly loved one live at home independently and with optimal health.
Over caregivers provide professional in-home nursing care, PSW services, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care that focuses on your loved one’s specific needs. We also offer in-home elder care services such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, activities, and casual companionship so they can enjoy their vintage years with the highest quality of life possible.
CareHop’s elder care services are designed to positively impact your loved one’s life throughout the year or at certain times when you need us the most.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.