Dementia affects many parts of a senior’s daily routine, including mealtimes. However, there are a few simple ways you can make eating easier for your aging loved one.
1. Keep Mealtimes Positive
At times, seniors with dementia may refuse to eat or only eat very little. Although you want your loved one to get enough nourishment to stay healthy, you also want to avoid battles over food that increase resistance to mealtimes. Instead, provide gentle encouragement. If you feel your parent isn’t eating enough, supplement with snacks.
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2. Limit Options
One of the symptoms of dementia is difficulty making decisions, and being presented with multiple options is often overwhelming. When giving your parent a choice of what to eat, try to offer only two options. It also helps to have favorite foods available for a backup plan in case your loved one refuses the first two choices. While you may worry that your parent’s preferences for sweets or fatty foods is unhealthy, he or she may be trying to meet sensory needs. Go ahead and let your loved one eat pie or ice cream, as long as he or she isn’t limited by a special diet. Your parent may need the calories, and the sweetness or texture could encourage him or her to eat.
3. Watch for Signs of Physical Discomfort
Communication challenges caused by dementia could cause your loved one to be unable to tell you if eating causes pain. Help your parent stay on top of dental care to ensure loose dentures and other common issues aren’t creating soreness in the mouth. You may also need to cut your parent’s food up into smaller pieces to help with swallowing.
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4. Encourage Involvement in Meals
Your loved one may find meals more enjoyable if he or she can help with the preparation. For seniors who live alone, having a caregiver visit to assist with meals is often more effective than simply dropping off precooked dishes. As your parent helps you mix ingredients and smells the food as it cooks, his or her appetite may get stimulated.
5. Make Meals an Event
Make meals an obviously important time of the day. Start by eliminating distractions. Turn the television off and other noisy appliances so your loved one focuses completely on the meal. You should also try to sit with your parent when possible. If time doesn’t permit this, consider hiring a companion to sit with your loved one and keep conversations going during meals. Seeing you and other people model appropriate mealtime behavior could help your parent enjoy eating.
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