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Food & Dementia: How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits


Proper nutrition is important for everyone, no matter their stage of life. For those living with dementia, however, it can be a challenge to get the right nutrition for a number of reasons. Healthy eating habits and balanced diets are important to help maintain physical health, and can often help address behavioral symptoms. As the disease progresses though, it can be a challenge to battle appetite loss and weight loss, as well as staying hydrated. While those with dementia do not require a special diet, it is still important to observe nutritional dietary tips and ensure they are getting what they need to function.

What Causes Poor Appetite?

It isn’t uncommon for people suffering dementia to exhibit less interest in food and a decreased appetite. This can make it a challenge to get them to eat healthy meals and stay hydrated. Understanding why they’re less interested in food can help you. Some common reasons include:

  • Not recognizing foods. They may no longer recognize the foods you offer, and may not want to try them or realize they are edible.
  • Poorly fitting dentures or dental issues. Dental health is critical to comfortably eating a variety of foods. When someone is facing painful teeth, missing teeth, or poorly fitting dentures, food can be less interesting or difficult to safely eat.
  • Medications. Changes in medications and dosages can affect appetite.
  • Lack of exercise. If they aren’t moving around as much as they used to, their caloric usage may be less than it was. This can decrease a person’s appetite. Encouraging simple exercise, such as a walk or gardening, can increase appetite.
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste. As we age, our senses often begin to dull. This can mean food is less interesting than it used to be, or doesn’t taste or smell appetizing.

Focus On Making Mealtimes Easier

Distractions, too many choices, and changes in perception can make it a challenge to keep someone with dementia on track at meal times. Try these tips to help encourage them to eat and make mealtimes less of a challenge:

  • Limit distractions: Serve meals in a quiet area, away from distractions like the television, radio, or other devices.
  • Set a simple table: Reduce the number of things on the table, including decorations, utensils, and glasses. This can help avoid confusion.
  • Use contrast to highlight food: Plain white plates or solid colored dishes can make it easier to distinguish what items are on the plate. A simple placemat can help the plate appear more obvious as well.
  • Check for safe temperatures: It can be difficult for people with dementia to distinguish whether food or drinks are too hot. Test food and drinks before serving to make sure they aren’t too hot.
  • Serve less food at a time: Too many choices can lead to confusion. Serve only one or two foods at a time.
  • Know preferences can change: Long-standing favorites may change suddenly, so be flexible with foods and know that things may not remain the same.
  • Allow plenty of time to eat: It is better to remind your loved one to chew their food fully before swallowing to avoid choking. Let them take their time eating and always be on hand to assist if they need help.
  • Eat together: Dining is often a social experience, and can be more enjoyable when shared. Take the time to sit down with your loved one and make it a daily event that is exciting. Research suggests people eat better with company.
  • Know they may not remember when they ate: It isn’t uncommon for a person with dementia to forget when or if they ate. If this occurs, serve smaller courses of meals when asked, so they can eat when they feel they are hungry.
  • Serve easy-to-eat foods: Finger foods can make meal times easier to handle, and can help you incorporate vegetables and protein into your loved one’s diet. Similarly, avoid foods that difficult to chew or swallow. Soft foods can help, as can cutting food into bite-size pieces.

Our Westchester County rehab center is dedicated to providing supportive care and therapies to help those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Our long-term care facility can help families ensure their loved one gets appropriate care, maintains a social life, and has their independence encouraged while their safety is looked after. Schedule a tour to learn how King Street Rehab is here for your loved one.

Contact our offices by calling (914) 937-5800.

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