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Food and the Dining Experience Key in Caring for the Dementia Patient

June 2, 2017

Shaina Toomey, MSPT, Director of Rehabilitation Services, Fresh River Healthcare Center

(appeared in the Windsor Locks Journal, Windsor Journal and Bloomfield Messenger)

One of the leading challenges that seniors face is maintaining their appetite.  Significant weight loss affect 40% of people with severe Alzheimer’s disease.  Recent studies suggest that vision problems might be a factor for weight loss. Other possible causes of loss of appetite may be poor fitting dentures, depression, self feeding difficulties, medications, not enough exercise, decreased sense of smell or taste, or not recognizing the food. Proper nutrition is important to keep the body strong and healthy.  For people with Alzheimer’s disease poor nutrition may increase behavior symptoms as well as weight loss.

The ability to see colors diminishes with age. Those with dementia may have depth perception issues and difficulty with lack of contrast.  Often people will find it difficult to distinguish between the plate from the table setting, the food from the plate or the liquid from its container; for example milk from a white cup.  The use of color contrasting during mealtimes is of great importance.  Preparing foods of various colors or the use of bright colored plates and cups against a light table cloth provide the contrast required for vision deficits, but be aware to avoid patterns.

Making mealtimes easier and more pleasant is another great way to address.

Here are some suggestions: 

  • Limit distractions
  • Keep the table settings simple – fake fruit on the table for decorations may confuse a person 
  • Check the food temperatures – a person may not be able to tell if an item is too hot
  • Serve only one or two foods at a time – use individual containers to avoid overwhelming the person
  • Be flexible to food preferences – this may change throughout a persons life.   People often prefer sweeter or stronger flavors as they age. 
  • Give the person plenty of time to eat
  • Eat together – research shows that people eat better when they are in the company of others
  • Create a pleasant ambiance - Loud noise, a room that is too hot or cold, a chair that is no longer comfortable may affect mealtime

Lastly be aware of the persons strengths and limitations. Use adaptive feeding equipment, finger foods, supervision and encouragement, and do not worry about neatness

As we age we do not need a ‘specialized’ diet, the importance is maintaining a healthy diet, staying hydrated and having a pleasurable meal.