For About and By Caregivers

Subscribe to our bi-monthly publication Today's Caregiver magazine

  + Larger Font | - Smaller Font

Share This Article

Encouraging Eating: Advice for
At-Home Dementia Caregivers

(Page 1 of 7)

Food, eating, and mealtimes are important parts of life. Food gives us life-sustaining nourishment and contributes to good health, eating satisfies our hunger and stimulates our senses, and mealtimes can be important sharing and social times with family and friends. Many of our favorite experiences and memories—preparing and sharing holiday dinners with family members, celebrating birthdays and other life events with special meals, and getting together with friends for lunch or dinner—involve eating and food.

When a person has Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or another type of dementia, the ability to prepare meals and eat independently may diminish, and mealtimes can become challenging, frustrating encounters for both the individual and the caregiver. Often, too, the person with dementia may be experiencing changes, such as decreased appetite, that are part of normal aging. Combined, these changes can lead to malnourishment and dehydration, increasing the risk of infections, poor wound healing, abnormally low blood pressure, and other problems.

Good nutrition cannot always prevent weight loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease, nor will it slow the progression of dementia. However, continuing to eat a healthful diet can promote overall health, improve the person’s ability to cope, help prevent some physical and behavioral problems, and most of all, contribute to higher quality of life. Family members and paid caregivers of people with AD play an important role in both encouraging eating and identifying eating-related problems that could be resolved. This article discusses some of the eating-related challenges associated with the middle stages of AD and related dementias, and suggests mealtime strategies and tips for at-home caregivers.

Understand the Challenges

As people age, their interest in eating and mealtime enjoyment can change. Some older adults find that their senses of taste or smell decrease, making food seem less appealing than it did in the past. Others eat less because of difficulties chewing or digesting as they get older. Medicines can also affect appetite, and constipation may increase with age or medication use. When a person has AD or other dementia, these problems can become more pronounced, and mood, behavioral, and physical functioning problems may affect eating as the disease progresses.

“When the brain is involved, as in dementia, any part of seeing, thinking, or moving can be affected—from problems seeing the food clearly to difficulty planning the movement of scooping with a utensil and bringing food to one’s mouth. These problems can take the pleasure out of eating,” explains Sue Coppola, MS, OTR/L, BCG, clinical associate professor of occupational therapy and core interdisciplinary team member with the Program on Aging at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Printable Version Printable Version



Related Articles

Maintaining Nutrition When They Can't Sit Down to Eat

Is a Registered Dietitian Part of Your Home Health Care Team?

Eating Habits: Suggestions When Feeding Your Elderly Loved Ones


Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Follow Us on Youtube Follow us on Pinterest Google Plus