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Encouraging Eating: Advice for
At-Home Dementia Caregivers

(Page 6 of 7)

Routines and rituals provide important cues that it is time to eat and trigger the familiar actions involved in feeding oneself. Experts suggest a variety of ways to maintain lifelong habits and routines:

  • Identify and respect personal, cultural, and religious food preferences, such as eating tortillas instead of bread, avoiding pork or milk products, and not liking certain kinds of vegetables.

  • If the person has always eaten meals at specific times, continue to serve meals at those times.

  • Serve meals in a consistent, familiar place and way whenever possible.

  • If the family has always said a prayer of thanks before meals, continue to say the prayer.

  • Avoid introducing unfamiliar routines, such as serving breakfast to a person who has never routinely eaten breakfast.

In time, familiar routines, rituals, and food choices may need to be adapted to meet the day-to-day needs of the person with dementia and to address changes that occur as the disease progresses. For example, a family custom of serving appetizers before dinner can be preserved, but higher-calorie items might be offered to help maintain the person’s weight. Likewise, if the family typically has cocktails before dinner, non-alcoholic drinks can be served to avoid the appetite-suppressing effect of alcohol or other possible safety problems associated with alcohol consumption.

If care is being provided by an aide or other paid professional, the family should educate the caregiver about food preferences and familiar eating routines and rituals. “A baseline for providing good care is knowing the person you’re caring for, but paid caregivers very often are at a loss,” Epstein says. “They don’t know the person unless they’ve worked with him or her for a long time, and family members often don’t know what they need to tell the paid caregiver. This can be very frustrating for everyone.”

“Family members definitely need to communicate with the caregiver about what the person likes to eat, the person’s style of eating, and whether he or she prefers that the caregiver sit down to eat with the person or just serve the food,” Epstein adds. “In this way, the family can empower and direct the caregiver and minimize frustration, which benefits everyone involved.”

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