How to Make Meal Times More Enjoyable When Your Loved One Has Dementia
Dementia affects many aspects of a person’s life including meal times. The ability to prepare nutritious meals and to feed oneself will change as the condition progresses through the various stages.
Enjoying delicious and tasty food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and that is no different for a person with dementia! They will have the same likes and dislikes that they have always had and will have lifelong habits around mealtimes that were developed at a young age. The more you know about a person and their background, the more successful you will be in helping them to enjoy their meals.
In the early stage, very little may change. It is important to honor the person’s preferences and let them make choices that they have always made for themselves. Don’t become the nutrition cop and expect them to eat foods that you think they should eat to stay healthy. If they have never liked or eaten a certain food, it is unlikely that they will start now!
If the person can no longer drive, bring them to the grocery store and help them navigate the aisles. Try to go at a quiet time when there will be fewer people and less noise. If the person has difficulty making decisions, offer them a choice between two items such as chicken or beef.
During mealtimes, don’t assume that the person wants or needs your help to cut a piece of meat. Let the person remain as independent as possible and ask if they would like your help before you jump in and take over.
If you notice that they lose interest in meal preparation, it may be time to investigate options like Meals on Wheels or other services that may be available within your community.
As dementia progresses, different areas of the brain will be affected, and certain skills will be lost. One of the skills that may be affected is remembering how to use cutlery. The person may not know what to do with a fork, knife or spoon.
A spoon often works best for most foods so remove the other pieces of cutlery to reduce confusion. Place the spoon in the person’s hand and gently bring their hand towards the mouth. Once the action is initiated, the person may be able to carry on from there.
Due to changes in the brain, the person may also lose interest in eating and drinking. Don’t try to use logic to convince them to eat because the part of the brain that allows a person to understand logic is affected by dementia early in the condition. Saying “You have to eat because you’re diabetic” will likely not persuade the person to eat. Instead, prepare appetizing foods, eat together, and offer small frequent meals and snacks.
People in this stage may have difficulty swallowing which can increase the risk of choking. It is a good idea to consult with a dietitian and to ask for ideas for what you should serve your loved one. He or she may recommend soft foods, thickened liquids, and nutritional supplements.
The focus now should be on quality of life rather than eating a healthy, balanced diet. Let the person eat dessert first if that is what interests them the most.
As a caregiver, you will have many responsibilities and ensuring the person eats healthy, nutritious meals is just one of them. Let go of having every meal be perfect, don’t sweat the small stuff, and try to relax and enjoy your mealtimes together!