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Mealtime for patients with dementia care can be a challenge. Through better understanding of the challenges, faculties can better care for their patients and create a positive environment for their staff.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

When caring for patients with dementia, a healthy diet is essential to keep both the body and mind strong. According to the Alzheimer’s Association a poor diet can increase behavioral symptoms and cause weight loss or gain in patients. It is important to provide patients with a balanced diet that consists of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins while limiting saturated fats and refined sugars.

It is also important to limit the salt used in food, as high sodium is one of the primary causes of elevated blood pressure. Swapping in other herbs and spices as an alternative to salt can go a long way towards keeping your dementia patient healthy and fit. Hydration is also key. It is important to make sure your patients drink fluids during mealtime and throughout the day.

How to Handle a Lack of Appetite

Lack of appetite in dementia patients can be caused by a number of factors. As our bodies age, our sense of taste and smell starts to decline. This is especially true with those who suffer from dementia. A change in medication can also be the cause of a poor appetite. It is important to monitor these changes and report them to the patient’s physician. A lack of appetite can also be related to exercise, so make sure patients have enough healthy movement and exercise throughout the day.

Another major reason for lack of appetite in dementia patients is not being able to recognize the food on their plate, or even not remembering how to properly use utensils. Try to limit the food choices that are on the plate at one time. Serving simple-to-eat foods can also help.  

Seeing the Dangers of Overeating

Just as lack of appetite can be an issue, so too can overeating when caring for dementia patients. Dementia patients may forget they have eaten and request another meal. Overeating can cause dangerous weight gain; however, a patient may become distressed when told that he or she have already had their meal.

If this becomes a recurring issue, it can be helpful to split their regular meal in two and serve the second portion upon request or later that day. Another option is to serve healthy fruits and vegetables if a patient asks for a meal after they have already eaten.

Limiting Distractions

Mealtime challenges when caring for dementia patients are not just related to the food. What you serve the food on can be just as important as what is on the plate. White plates or bowls can help dementia patients see and understand their foods better. Plates with patterns, as well as patterned tablecloths, can distract from the meal.

Keep the table limited to just the items pertaining to their current meal. A table setting, such as one with fake fruit, can confuse a patient. According to the National Institute on Aging, poor lighting, too much glare and shadows as well as unnecessary items on the table can all serve as negative and confusing distractions. Limit audio distractions as well: a television, people chatting in the hallway or even the humming of an appliance can remove focus from mealtime.

Exercising Patience and Flexibility

As a caregiver, your attitude and energy is very important to create a positive mealtime experience for your dementia patients. A frustrated disposition can become a distraction. Setting a positive tone at mealtime should start with a soothing voice from the caregiver and a motivational attitude. Mealtime can be very confusing, anxiety-inducing time for someone suffering from dementia. A caregiver should express patience and understanding as well helping to try to find solutions to their patient’s mealtime frustrations.

Mealtime can take up to an hour or more to complete, and it is important to monitor your patient and their food throughout the meal. Sufferers of dementia may have problems using their utensils or have issues chewing, and food may then become cold and less appealing as the meal progresses. It is important to stay flexible to the needs of your patients and to changes that may occur during the mealtime experience.

Promoting Routine

For those suffering from dementia, maintaining a routine is a vital part of their comfort and care, especially during mealtime. According to the National Institute on Aging, a sense of a normal routine can provide reassurance, helping to maintain a patient’s dignity. A regular mealtime routine can also increase food consumption and ease mealtime tension. Caregivers should listen and try to provide a similar environment that they were used to experiencing in their homes. This means being respectful and incorporating religious and cultural preferences and practices into the mealtime routine. If possible, a caregiver should ask family members of the patient for suggestions on how to better craft a routine familiar to them. The time of the meals should be consistent to keep the routine simple and easy to follow day after day.

Promoting a sense of independence

Maintaining a patience’s sense of independence is key to ensuring their enjoyment and overall experience during mealtime. It is important to treat each patient’s case in a unique manner and asses their personal abilities. A sense of independence can go a long way in ensuring positive associations from your patients during mealtime. If you find that your patient is losing their ability to use their utensils, serving them finger foods or sandwiches can help restore their confidence before having to resort to a more hands-on approach to feeding. Do not worry about neatness until after the meal. If spilling does become a problem, no-spill glasses or even switching from plates to bowls could suffice.

Caring for a patient with dementia can be very stressful to a caregiver. It is important not to let the stress of the situation spill over into the quality of your care. Make sure you have someone to talk to about your stress, whether it be personal or professional, outside the positive environment you create for your patient. Making sure mealtime goes smoothly and successfully will provide both you and your patient with the peace of mind needed to successfully care for someone with dementia.

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