Are you sure your dementia patient is getting the nutrition that he needs?

Are you somehow the in-house chef for a family member who is suffering from dementia? If answered yes, this can soon become a daily challenge. Dementia is a disease which has the power to make, break and also change the rules and can lead to the disappearance of appetite for liquids and food. Dementia and Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disorder which progresses with time and as it progresses, various skills of the patient are lost. The person can soon lose his ability to apply logic to things; he may override inclinations and can also become incapable of explaining why he refused to eat his favorite meals or what time of the day it is. Once the disease progresses, two things stay constant – the person’s requirement for nutrients and the caregiver’s need to ensure that all nutrients are met.

What should you do in order to improve the experience that both of you face in ensuring that your loved one consumes all sorts of vital nutrients? If you think you don’t know, scroll down.

Know what fails to work for dementia patients

  • Insisting your loved one to eat will never prove to be a fruitful attempt
  • Pleading, nagging, convincing, feeling frustrated or telling him to ‘try a bite’ of some food will never end up in generating hunger of that person
  • After you learn the fact that he is totally uninterested in eating, if you still leave the food in front of the person, this too won’t help

Realize what helps for a dementia patient

When you are the person who is offering dementia caring to your loved one, here are few things to take note of.

What to do when you prepare the food:

  • Don’t forget to bring your family member to the kitchen when you prepare the meals.
  • Spruce up the level of nutrition by slipping in healthy fats, powdered protein, pureed veggies into whole wheat baked food items and other soft foods. While baking things, use nut flours for breading as it is healthier.
  • Add spices or flavours which are preferred by the care receiver.
  • Curb the sugar and calories and limit the intake of processed foods.
  • Cut down on salt intake.
  • Chewable food should be cut down into very small pieces for the convenience of the patient.
  • Foods should be prepared in a nutrient-dense manner.
  • Switch to finger foods like burgers, chicken strips, fish sticks and green beans whenever you see that the loved one is gradually becoming incapable of using a spoon or knife or fork.

Making meal time easier and more manageable for your loved one:

People who are suffering from dementia often fail to see their surroundings properly and they often fail to notice the food that is kept on the plate in a way as others do. Here are few ways in which you can make meal time manageable.

  • Make the patient eat in a calm and simple area as ornate or busy rooms can be extremely distracting for the patient
  • Make the patient sit in a table and even though if it is not your meal time, you can sit opposite him and keep adding food on his plate. Remember that companionship can give you an easy chance to help the patient
  • Keep adding food on a red plate. According to researches done in the Boston University, patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s ate 30% more food when the food is served on a red plate as against white plate
  • Talk minimum when your patient eats and don’t allow any noise of electronic intervention. Remember that doing multiple things at a time can get the patient confused.
  • The tableware on the table should be tailor-made for dementia patients. The handles of knives and forks should be curved, there should be handles on plastic cups and plates need to have a high lip so that the food doesn’t slide down the table. This will help the dementia patient to manage his food items while eating.
  • Proper and usual table settings should not be kept. If there are too many knives, spoons and glasses which are not used, this can add to the visual clutter and can confuse the patient.
  • Use spill-proof and unbreakable cups if that is required
  • Remove candles, serving dishes, salt-shakers and any other centerpieces that are kept on the table.

Food & Eating habits of dementia patients – A guide for caregivers

For a person suffering from dementia, getting regular meals and the most nutritious ones can soon become challenging. In case you’ve appointed an in home aged care Sydney professional, you need to make sure he gives the best nutritious meals to your loved one. As and when the cognitive functioning of a patient declines, he may find it tough to walk through too many food choices. So, here are few food and eating tips to take into account.

Buying and preparing food

  • You need to buy healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and products that are made of whole grain. Make sure you purchase only those foods which the person likes to have and which he prefers eating.
  • Purchase food which can be prepared easily like salads that are premade and single portion foods.
  • Give choices to the person about what he would prefer to eat, like whether he would like to have salad or green beans.

If the caregiver is alone and has to make meals alone, it can be helpful if you could get someone in helping you prepare meals. In case you live with someone who is suffering from early stage dementia, you should buy foods so that the person doesn’t need to cook.

What are the possible reasons for poor appetite?

As the disease progresses with time, you will gradually find the person expressing his resentment towards food. What are the possible reasons? Here are few.

  • Not being able to recognize food: The person might not be able to recognize the food that is kept on the plate and this might be the reason behind not feeling eager to eat.
  • Dentures which no longer fit: Eating can sometimes also get painful due to dentures but the patient may not be able to express that to you.
  • Not enough workout: When the person becomes sedentary and when there is lack of physical activity, this can lead to loss of appetite. You being the caregiver should motivate the person to perform simple exercises like gardening, walking and washing dishes.
  • Medicines: A change in the dose of medicines or new medicines can also have an impact on your appetite. Call the doctor in case you notice a change.
  • Diminished sense of taste: The person who is suffering from dementia may not be able to smell and taste like before and that might be the reason behind his declining appetite.

Minimizing eating and nutrition issues

During the middle and later stages of dementia, the patient starts having swallowing issues which lead to weight loss and choking. Here are few tips and safety concerns to be aware of:

  • Prepare foods that are easily swallowed: When you make foods for your loved one, you can grind foods or cut them into small sizes or also try to serve soft foods like cheese, cottage, applesauce and scrambled eggs.
  • Be aware of choking issues: You should avert those foods which are tough to chew like carrots. Motivate your loved one to sit straight with his head straight and in case his head tilts backward, help him to move it to a forward position. Check the mouth of the person at the end of the meal so that you can ensure that the food has been swallowed.
  • Be concerned about loss of appetite: In case the person has lost his appetite, you can choose to prepare his favorite foods, plan for multiple small meals or boost his physical activity instead of giving him 3 bigger meals. Even then if you see that his appetite is not increasing and he is losing weight, get in touch with a doctor. Don’t forget that if the level of activity has decreased, he may not need as many calories as he would.

Mastering the art of eating well with dementia

As it is said that there is no such special diet for people who are suffering from dementia, yet it is true that proper nutrition can certainly ease off the symptoms. Whenever you take care of someone with dementia, there are ways in which you can make eating enjoyable and healthier.

Remembering the basics

  • Eat variety of foods, particularly vegetables and fruits, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and have proper portion sizes. Exercise is also a key part of your everyday routine
  • Restrain foods which have high cholesterol and fat like junk food and red meat.
  • Drink lots of water
  • Steer clear of salt
  • Curb your sugar usage

Follow your medicine routine religiously

Ask the health care team of your loved one whether or not there are any drinks or foods which can harm the impact of the medicines that they’re taking. Another thing to keep in mind is to check whether or not the medicines have an adverse impact on the patient’s appetite or bowel movements. Do they cause any other issue like affecting nutrition? If answered yes, the doctor can alter the dosage and suggest whether or not there are some other drugs which can ease off such side-effects.

Constipation is common among dementia patients

Few of the Alzheimer’s medicines can lead to constipation and this can also occur to someone who hasn’t drunk enough water. If you wish to ensure that your loved one doesn’t suffer from constipation, you should:

  • Get him plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains as these are the main dietary sources of fiber which can cure constipation.
  • Make sure he remains active and also practice exercise daily. Working out can make things moving inside the bathroom.
  • Drink enough fluids and water.

Cure symptoms like dry mouth

Someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s might not end up drinking enough water as the person’s body will no longer signal him for thirst. This often leads to dry mouth and hence you have to remind him to drink water. Few other ways in which you can try to avoid dry mouth are:

  • Dunk toasts, breads, crackers and cookies in milk or tea or hot chocolate and soften them.
  • Remind him to take a drink of water after taking each bite of food so that he can moisten his mouth and swallow food easily.
  • Provide him with fruit ice or sour candy to help his mouth produce more saliva.
  • Add sauces or broth on foods so that you can make them wetter and softer.

Improve his eating habits

  • Ask them to get moving as this will make them hungrier. Encourage them to stay active as this will help. It can be in the form of a slow walk or gardening in order to increase their appetite.
  • Allow them to enjoy cakes, if not always, at least sometimes. Due to age and dementia, their food tastes have changed and hence you should let them try different foods. This can also ensure proper nutrition.
  • If you think he has nutritional gap, you can give him nutrition shakes. In case he doesn’t prefer eating anything at all, a shake can be preferable to give him his daily dose of minerals and vitamins.
  • Be patient to understand his changing eating habits. Rushing with food will never help. Stay quiet and calm and sit with them while they have their food.

So, now that you know how you should motivate a dementia patient to eat properly so that he gets his fair share of nutrition, start applying these tips to your daily life.

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