Betsy's Blog

Making Mealtime Pleasurable for People With Alzheimer’s

Woman tossing spaghetti

I definitely have a passion for food – I am a true “foodie.” Food is love and food brings people together.

I have seen firsthand the significant and debilitating impact of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementias on eating. When I am with my clients, I sometimes observe how the various dementias can impact a person’s ability to feed oneself, including:

  • How to cut food.
  • Hold an utensil and scoop up food and put food in one’s mouth.
  • Drink from a cup.
  • Avoid spilling food.

I found a wonderful new website, which features assistive tableware for special needs. It really is an exciting and innovative way to approach many of these physical/cognitive challenges.

Another challenge that one encounters is the how to create an atmosphere that will activate a cognitively challenged individual – to signal to them that they are going to eat and create an interest in eating, etc.

During the middle and late stages of Alzheimer’s, distractions, too many choices, and changes in perception, taste and smell can make eating more difficult. You can learn more at the Alzheimer’s Association website.

The following tips can help:

  • Limit distractions.
    Serve meals in quiet surroundings, away from the television and other distractions.
  • Keep the table setting simple.
    Avoid placing items on the table — such as table arrangements or plastic fruit — that might distract or confuse the person. Use only the utensils needed for the meal.
  • Distinguish food from the plate.
    Changes in visual and spatial abilities may make it tough for someone with dementia to distinguish food from the plate or the plate from the table. It can help to use white plates or bowls with a contrasting color place mat. Avoid patterned dishes, tablecloths and place mats.
  • Check the food temperature.
    A person with dementia might not be able to tell if something is too hot to eat or drink. Always test the temperature of foods and beverages before serving.
  • Serve only one or two foods at a time.
    Too many foods at once may be overwhelming. Simplify by serving one dish at a time. For example, mashed potatoes followed by meat.
  • Be flexible to food preferences.
    Keep long-standing personal preferences in mind when preparing food, and be aware that a person with dementia may suddenly develop new food preferences or reject foods that were liked in the past.
  • Give the person plenty of time to eat.
    Remind him or her to chew and swallow carefully. Keep in mind that it may take an hour or longer to finish eating.
  • Eat together.
    Make meals an enjoyable social event so everyone looks forward to the experience. Research suggests that people eat better when they are in the company of others.
  • Keep in mind the person may not remember when or if he or she ate.
    If the person continues to ask about eating breakfast, consider serving several breakfasts — juice, followed by toast, followed by cereal.
Categories: Dementia