Feeding Alzheimer’s Patients: Tips to Make Sure the Senior In Your Care is Eating Enough
When you’re caring for an aging parent or another senior loved one, it’s natural to be concerned about whether they are eating enough. We recently discussed the optimal dining experience for seniors in a nursing home or assisted living facility. But how can you ensure the senior in your care gets enough to eat at home, whether it’s a small weekday meal or a large holiday gathering?
Obviously, you want to replicate the calming atmosphere you’d look for in a nursing home dining hall. At home, the onus is on you as the caregiver to make sure the senior gets enough nutritious foods. The good news is that you have the freedom and flexibility to create an environment where your loved one will thrive. Follow these tips to make mealtime pleasant for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Serve food quickly.
Seniors with Alzheimer’s tend to have short attention spans. It’s not fair to expect them to sit and wait or make small talk before dinner. Make sure the food is served before you call everyone to the table. For Thanksgiving or other holiday celebrations where food is served family style, prepare the senior’s plate first so it’s ready when they sit down and they don’t have to struggle with passing dishes.
Create a routine.
Familiarity helps alleviate anxiety and agitation. From the choice of place settings to the senior’s seat, as well as the times meals are served, the more factors you can keep the same from day to day, the better your loved one with Alzheimer’s will thrive.
Create a calming atmosphere.
Soft music may help keep seniors calm during mealtime, but some research shows that slow music may actually cause people to eat less. You can also create a calming atmosphere through the colors in your dining room or kitchen, relaxing and scenic artwork, and quiet conversation.
That doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, enjoy loud, boisterous conversation with other relatives during holiday gatherings. Just be respectful and keep an eye on your loved one with Alzheimer’s to make sure they are handling the situation okay.
Clear the clutter.
Remove any unnecessary serving bowls, decorative table centerpieces, and extra utensils. Experts recommend plates and bowls in bright, bold colors, and a place mat to clearly delineate the senior’s space and help eliminate confusion.
Remind your loved one to eat.
You may have to remind your loved one to take small bites, chew their food, and even to swallow. Monitor them throughout the meal. You can model eating tasks for them so they will follow, promoting independence. If your loved one seems to have trouble manipulating utensils, serve finger foods or even give them permission to pick up certain foods (like cut-up pieces of chicken or chunks of vegetables) with their fingers.
Be aware of medical risks.
As the disease progresses, Alzheimer’s patients may have trouble swallowing, which leads to choking risks. Again, remember to cut food into very small pieces and remind your loved one to eat slowly. Learn the Heimlich Maneuver so that you can act fast if your loved one begins to choke.
Learn from experience.
At mealtime, pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work. For instance, if a variety of colors and textures on the plate confuses your loved one, serve only one food at a time.
If your loved one becomes overwhelmed by large portions and won’t eat if there is too much food there, or if he or she tends to overeat in an effort to clear the plate, dole out much smaller portions. You can always offer a second helping.
Most importantly, stay upbeat, yet soothing throughout the meal. A large part of being an effective caregiver is watching the signals around you and how your loved one with Alzheimer’s reacts in different situations, so you can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. By following these tips, mealtime can continue to be a pleasant family bonding experience for you and your loved one even as the disease progresses.
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