NutritionAs dementia progresses, healthy eating and drinking commonly become affected due to changes in desire and ability to eat. Poor nutrition can increase the level of aggravation and cause physical weakness in the person with Alzheimer’s disease, which can lead to greater health concerns. While there are some common causes of poor appetite to watch out for, each individual is unique and if you suspect that your loved one is not eating a healthy diet, we, at Providence Care, recommend consulting their physician right away.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease:

A person with dementia may just forget to eat or no longer be able to prepare meals for themselves (especially if it is no longer safe for them to use the stove). During this time, it is important to provide active reminders to the individual to eat and ensure that they always have sufficient amounts of healthy food at home. If they will need to prepare any meals for themselves, we suggest leaving clear instructions of what and how to get the meal ready.

As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses:

A person with dementia may have a loss of coordination which can lead to an inability to use a knife and fork and can make chewing difficult.  We recommend providing some finger-foods that they can eat themselves to offer a sense of independence and alleviate frustration. During main meals, try to help the individual by offering verbal cues of how to use the fork and physically guide their hand to their mouth. It is a good idea to cut up any difficult foods ahead of time into bite-sized pieces once coordination becomes too much of a challenge. If chewing becomes an issue, and you have eliminated any denture related concerns, you may need to adjust the diet to softer foods that are easily eaten and at the extreme puree all foods.

Possible causes of poor appetite in Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • Poor fitting dentures can make eating painful, but your loved one may not be able to tell you this. Make sure their dentures fit and take them to the dentist regularly.
  • Medications can decrease appetite so if you notice a change when a new medication has been introduced or a dosage change, let their physician know right away
  • Constipation can be a common concern in elderly with Alzheimer’s and will affect appetite. Try to prevent constipation by encouraging physical activity, offering fibre-rich foods and plenty of fluids. If constipation becomes a severe problem, consult your physician.
  • Insufficient physical activity – spending the entire day in a chair or bed will decrease appetite. Encourage the individual to get up and do some simple exercises or go for a walk throughout the day to help increase appetite.
  • Depression can often be signaled by a marked decrease in appetite, especially for people with earlier stages Alzheimer’s. If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s, watch their eating carefully to ensure they are maintaining a healthy and sufficient diet.
  • Not recognizing food – as dementia progresses, they may no longer recognize the foods you put in front of them. Alleviate the stress that comes with this by reminding them what the food is and perhaps trying to remind them of when they might have eaten it before.

Healthy Eating Tips for Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • Ensure good hydration. 7-8 cups of water minimum are recommended. A dehydrated individual may become constipated or otherwise irritated and lose their appetite. It may be easier to offer numerous smaller cups of liquids throughout the day.
  • Offer a variety of foods to see what they like. Often preferences may change with Alzheimer’s disease and new foods may become appreciated.
  • Maintain a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and grains.
  • Try to plan activities around food to make the individual feel involved, such as getting them to do some basic tasks (snapping peas) or preparing ingredients for cookies.
  • Make sure food is visible by providing visual cues.Try to use either solid white or red dishes to serve the healthy food so it stands out against the plate and the plate stands out against the table.
  • Reduce distractions at mealtime, including turning off the television.

As with everything you deal with as Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, it is important to stay flexible and calm. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at community@providencecare.com call us anytime at 415-359-9700. We have over 25 years of practical experience helping seniors eat a healthy diet and maintain an optimal body weight.