Mealtime for patients with dementia care can be a challenge. This may be due to several reasons like confusion, lack of taste, or maybe unable to recognize the signs of hunger. Forcing the elderly to eat or punishing them for not eating shouldn’t be an option. Try to find the reason why your loved one with Dementia refuses to eat would be the best way to resolve the issue.
Here are some tips that can hep overcome mealtime challenges for Dementia patients.
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 not remembering how to properly use the utensils. It will be helpful if you try to limit the number of food on the plate at one time. Serving simple-to-eat foods may also help.
Seeing the Dangers of Overeating
Just as lack of appetite can be an issue, overeating can be an issue as well when caring for dementia patients. Dementia patients may forget they have eaten and request another meal. Overeating can cause weight gain. In some cases, a Dementia patient may become irritated or confused when told that he or she have already had their meal. In this case, maybe you can offer a small nutritious snack like grapes or apple slices.
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.
Limiting Distractions During Mealtime
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 food better. Plates with patterns, as well as patterned tablecloths, can sometimes be a distraction from the meal.
Be sure to limit the number of items on the table. It is advisable to remove any decorations like fake fruits, flowers, etc as it may cause some confusion to the patient with Dementia. 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.
Patience and Flexibility
As a caregiver, your attitude and energy are very important in creating a positive mealtime experience for your dementia patients. A frustrated disposition can become a distraction. Setting a positive tone during mealtimes 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 in trying to help find solutions to their patient’s mealtime frustrations.
Mealtime can take up to an hour or more so it is important that you monitor the elderly and their food intake throughout the meal. People with Dementia may have problems using their utensils or have issues chewing or recognizing their food. Sometimes, when the food becomes cold, it becomes less appealing for them to eat so it is important for you to monitor and observe their behavior during mealtime. Being patient and understanding to the needs of your patients and to changes that may occur during the mealtime experience are key.
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, normal routines 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 try to provide a similar environment just like what they were used to in their homes. This may include incorporating religious and cultural practices into their mealtime routine. Caregivers should also talk to the family members and ask for any suggestions on how to encourage the elderly to eat.
Promoting a sense of independence
Maintaining a patient’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 attitudes 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, try to consider no-spill glasses or even switching from plates to bowls.
Caring for a patient with dementia can be very stressful to a caregiver. It is important not to let the stress affect the quality of care you provide to your Dementia patients.
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