Eating a healthy and balanced diet can be a challenge for anyone, but for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, it often falls on caregivers to ensure meals are adequately prepared, served, and eaten. Outside of making sure appropriate nutrient and caloric needs are being met, caregivers for those with cognitive illnesses may also have to help them know how and when to eat as motor skills and appetite can be affected by cognitive decline. The below tips can help ensure proper nutrition and more enjoyable mealtimes for those living with memory loss.
Make a menu plan
The key to achieving any goal is to have a plan, and reaching nutritional goals is no different. Having a menu plan can help identify what groceries are needed to prepare meals, incorporate a variety of recipes and ingredients into daily and weekly rotation, and ensure proper nutritional health is being met. It can also serve as a record of what meals and foods were enjoyed or disliked so planning and preparing for future meals is easier, especially when tastes can change suddenly due to memory loss. There are many free apps and websites dedicated to planning meals, or you can purchase specialty programs to make meal planning even simpler. A pen and paper also work just as well.
Identify barriers to proper nutrition
Appetite and preferences may change suddenly as a symptom of memory loss, but sometimes there are other factors at play to make eating unappealing. Especially if communication skills have diminished, it can be difficult to know what is causing a poor appetite. Make sure that teeth and dentures are healthy and in good condition as dental pain could create an aversion to mealtimes.
Speak with a doctor about any medications being taken to see if lack of appetite is a side effect or if there are any sudden changes to appetite because of new medication. Encourage light physical activity to burn off calories and stimulate the appetite. If there are any other factors preventing a person from eating, work with a doctor, nutritionist, or other specialist to alleviate any pain or aversion regarding mealtime.
Facilitate mealtime independence
While the act of preparing food or knowing when to eat may not be feasible for a person with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive illnesses, there are still opportunities for them to exercise some independence around mealtime. Allow eaters to choose among approved recipes or foods, have them prepare simple dishes or assist in meal preparation if they are able, or have them set the table.
Find which utensils and dishes are the easiest to use and have patience with spills or slow eaters who are feeding themselves. Instead of taking over, model the appropriate movements or actions so those eating can follow along while still going through the motions independently. This independence can help maintain a sense of dignity and make mealtimes enjoyable for anyone struggling with memory loss.
Keep mealtimes as a social experience
Even if meals at times can be frustrating for someone with memory loss, strive to keep them social and something worth looking forward to doing each day. Besides doing preparations together, eat meals together when possible and talk about the day or favorite memories.
Invite guests to meals occasionally or create a “supper club” with others with Alzheimer’s or dementia to help share the responsibility of cooking and mealtime supervision with other caregivers, as well as making it a social setting. Play music or create a nice ambiance through lighting and simple table settings. Mealtimes or foods may be different than what was enjoyed in the past, but it doesn’t mean they cannot still be enjoyable or special.
Primrose – Engaged Assisted Living
Meals are an important part of all Primrose programs, providing a healthy and enjoyable experience for all who dine there. If you or someone you know is struggling to maintain proper nutrition while coping with memory loss, or is interested in additional memory care services, visit us in Santa Rosa, or contact online to learn more.