The Importance of Nutrition in Dementia Care April 19 2013
Food provides nourishment for the body and soul. For a senior living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, proper nutrition is important to keep the body strong and healthy. It has also been shown to heighten concentration, improve performance and mood, while keeping energy levels steady. Adversely, poor nutrition may increase behavioral symptoms and cause weight loss for the person with dementia.
Many people with living with memory loss were homemakers and have spent countless hours preparing meals for their families. Being in the kitchen preparing recipes from their mothers and grandmothers was a daily way of life for many. Our goal as care partners is to transport the person with dementia to a comforting place where food played an important role in their life. The basic nutrition tips below can help boost the person with dementia's health and your health as a care partner, too.
Tips for Healthy Eating
- Encourage physical activity to stimulate appetite
- Provide nutritionally balanced meals three times a day as well as healthy snacks
- Serve food that is colorful and easily distinguishable from the plate
- Offer a variety of foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods)
- Consider asking a food preference by showing two examples of food or use pictures of food to assist in choosing
- Cut food into manageable, bite-sized pieces if there is a concern about choking or swallowing
- Test the temperature of foods and beverages before serving (a person with dementia might not be able to tell if something is too hot to eat or drink)
- Include finger foods when it is difficult to use utensils and to promote independence
- Offer foods and recipes from a person’s past (familiar foods may serve as reminders of happy times)
- Add sugar, marmalade or jellies, or maple syrup to the food may make it more appealing (as sweet is last taste sensation to remain)
- To prevent dehydration, offer small cups of water or other liquids with meals and throughout the day or foods with high water content, such as fruit, soups, milkshakes, or smoothies
- Give the person plenty of time to finish eating
- Provide proper oral care before and after meals
- Reduce distractions such as a radio or a television in the eating area
- Provide a clutter-free table setting (avoid a table arrangement or a bowl of plastic fruit)
- Use brightly-colored or red dishes to help distinguish the food from the plate (studies show Alzheimer's patients increase food intake by 24% and liquid by 84% due to red color)
- Use placemats of a contrasting color to help distinguish the plate from the table (stick with solid colors—patterned plates, bowls, and linens may be confusing)
- Eat with others to encourage socialization
- If needed, make sure the person is wearing eyeglasses at mealtimes
- Reminisce about food, holiday dinners, as well as daily life during meals
Eating plays an important role in all of our lives. It is important for the care partner to ensure that the person with dementia is getting enough to eat and drink. By adapting some of our eating rituals, a person with Alzheimer’s disease can enjoy mealtimes and benefit from a nutritionally sound diet.
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