Eating a balanced diet is important for all of us, but there are times in life when healthy eating isn’t the easiest thing to stay on top of. For an individual with Alzheimer’s, sometimes, changes in appetite can quickly turn into long lasting negative habits, and when important nutrients are lacking in the diet, the results can include accelerated cognitive decline or other health related concerns.
Alzheimer’s impacts so many areas of the brain, and for some individuals, this leads to a change in how food tastes, decrease in appetite or changes to their routine that may make them forget to eat or view eating as less important. Sometimes, seniors diagnosed with this form of dementia also have difficulty expressing any pain or discomfort they are experiencing, including dental problems, digestive ailments or feelings of depression. When left undetected, these too can result in a change in appetite and the consumption of a less healthy diet.
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s and is losing weight or showing other signs of less adequate or less healthy food intake, there are several things that can help boost their appetite and improve the nutritional content of their daily diet.
Assess the Environment and Situation
First, assess the situation. Sit back at a meal and watch the senior in your care consume their food. Note anything that might seem difficult. Are they having trouble grasping a fork or remembering what a utensil is used for? Is the person interacting with you in a positive way? What is the environment like? Might it be too hot, too cold, too bright, too dark or too loud? How does the individual perceive the sight, scent and texture of the food? Are you noticing any difficulties with chewing or swallowing? Understanding what is going on at meal time is a great way to begin developing a plan of care outlining the steps you can take to help make beneficial improvements.
Small Steps that Have a Big Impact
Sometimes, major changes are not necessary to help your loved one consume a healthier diet. The simplest things will often make the biggest difference. Here are some strategies to try:
Keep portion sizes small. Large meals are often overwhelming for a senior with Alzheimer’s. Try placing smaller portions and just two or three items on the plate instead. It might also be helpful to offer tiny snacks throughout the day as opposed to three big sit down meals to encourage more frequent eating and increased intake of nutritionally dense foods.
Entice all the senses. Sometimes, an individual with dementia loses their sense of taste before their sense of smell or sight. To make mealtime appealing, entice all of the senses. Set a visually colorful and appealing table that isn’t overwhelming. Fill the room with aromas from fresh baked goods or home cooked stews and recipes. Make sure hot foods are served hot and cold foods are served cold, but be cautious that the temperature is never extreme and does not cause safety concerns. These other senses can stimulate the brain and make a person feel hungry, helping them to enjoy their meal more.
Keep mealtime social. An individual with Alzheimer’s is empowered when they feel involved. Helping them to remain at their highest level of independence also decreases feelings of depression, anxiety or restlessness. At mealtime, keep the event social by inviting the senior to participate. Ask them to set the table or assist with meal preparation and serving as appropriate. Whenever possible, make sure that meals aren’t enjoyed alone by inviting guests over, sitting down with your loved one for the meal or enlisting the help of a professional caregiver for companionship and supervision. When a person with Alzheimer’s enjoys their environment, it is easier for them to enjoy their food more too.
Meeting Nutritional Needs in the Later Stages of Alzheimer’s
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, even recognizing food sometimes becomes difficult. When your loved one reaches this stage, it may be necessary to increase support to include all meal preparation and even feeding assistance. If this level of care is necessary, it is often beneficial to hire a home care professional such as Salus Homecare San Diego for assistance. For many families, considering assistance before a loved one reaches this stage helps the senior to develop a relationship with the caregiver, making mealtime easier and encouraging the individual to feel more accepting of appropriate care as their disease progresses.
For more information on Alzheimer’s care and the services provided by Salus Homecare San Diego, including meal preparation and feeding assistance, please call our 24/7 hotline at 888-725-8742.
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