Mealtime and dementia

One effect of dementia is the change in the way foods smell and taste. A person with Alzheimer’s or another memory disorder might not be able to recognize foods or know if he or she is full or hungry. Even the seemingly simple mechanics of fork and spoon or swallowing  and chewing can become too complicated.

Make the environment supportive. Confusion dulls the appetite, aim to keep things unhurried and streamlined.

  • Eat with your relative. This can set the tone that it is time to eat.
  • Simplify the setting. A table that is too cluttered might be confusing. Your relative might not be able to distinguish between a decoration and food.
  • Reduce unnecessary noise. Turn the television and radio off! Hold off on emotional and loud conversations.
  • Use contrasting colors. Visual-spatial perception changes are often seen with dementia. Avoid mashed potatoes on a white plate on a white tablecloth!

Keep the menu simple.

  • Plan for small, frequent meals. It can be difficult for people with dementia to sit for a long period of time.
  • Serve just one food at a time. Pick out the most nutritious meal and place it on a small plate. If your loved one leaves the table, they have at least eaten the most important part of the meal.
  • Check the temperature of the food before serving. Your relative may not be able to tell what is too hot.
  • Stay flexible. What your relative ate willingly yesterday may not be appealing today. Don’t take it personal! Sensitivity to smells and to textures can make for picky eating. Offer them another option. Or wait a half-hour and try again.
  • Support self-feeding. Before serving food cut it into to bite size pieces. If possible provide finger foods. (Remember to wash your relative’s hands carefully before and after!)

If your loved one seems to often so no interest in eating, consult with the doctor. Some medications can affect appetite. Dental issues can also make chewing painful.