When a loved one is living with the challenges of memory loss, daily activities that we often take for granted can become difficult to manage. As Alzheimer’s disease (and other forms of dementia) progresses, a person eventually loses the abilities to cook or prepare a meal, choose healthy foods to eat, use utensils and, in some late-stage cases, chew or swallow without difficulty. As a person’s skills and cognitive abilities gradually worsen, it often falls on their caregiver to make sure they eat properly and get enough nutrients in their diet.
Tyrone Corbitt, Culinary Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care assisted living community in Pensacola, Florida, shares his experience in caring for the dining and nutritional needs of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease: “During the middle to later stages of Alzheimer’s, eating habits tend to change for the worse. Loved ones often experience loss of appetite, or they forget to eat. Sometimes they forget that they’ve already had a meal and overeat. They may have trouble finding food in the cupboards or fridge, or cause safety hazards while trying to prepare food. What was once so automatic becomes extremely challenging.
“Caregivers come to the rescue at mealtime. Family caregivers can plan meals that adapt with their loved one’s changing preferences and abilities. They can ensure that they eat healthy and maintain a proper diet. By understanding the changes in your loved one’s eating habits and the reasons behind their struggles, you can plan meals that encourage successful dining experiences for the loved one in your care.”
Challenges at Mealtime
According to the Alzheimer’s Association®, there are several reasons why memory loss can make eating so difficult for seniors, and they can be roughly separated into three categories. These include:
Loss of Appetite
- Decreased sense of taste or smell
- Side effects from medications
- Lack of physical activity
- Pain from poorly fitting dentures or a sore tooth
Loss of Cognitive and Motor Skills
- Cannot remember eating previously or forgets to eat
- Has difficulty using utensils
- Cannot tell food apart from the patterns on dishes
- Gets distracted by other items on the table or background noises
Difficulty Chewing or Swallowing (Late-Stage)
- Late-stage memory loss can diminish a person’s motor skills, creating a risk of choking when they eat or drink
These challenges can make it hard for the person to enjoy a meal, as their challenges often cause confusion, embarrassment or frustration. Once you identify the challenges your loved one faces during mealtimes, learn how to address those needs to make eating easier.
Planning Meals for Those with Memory Loss
In addition to adapting meals according to your loved one’s individual behaviors and symptoms, the National Institute on Aging suggests several ideas to help anyone with Alzheimer’s enjoy successful meals. From pre-prepared entrees to tricks to eat healthy, these tips can help caregivers ensure their loved one remains well fed and safe in the kitchen.
- Buy food that’s easy to make – If your loved one can still make a meal for his or herself, make the task simpler by having options of easily prepared meals available. Pre-made salads, single-portion dinners, instant oatmeal or cereal and packaged cups of fruit, yogurt or pudding are just a few ideas.
- Stock up on their favorites – Make sure the food you stock in their cupboards and fridge are appealing to your loved one and aren’t too difficult for them to eat. If your loved one has difficulty chewing, a snack of peanuts or carrot sticks won’t be very successful.
- Give them choices – Help boost your loved one’s appetite as well as their sense of autonomy by giving them choices for what they’d like to eat. Having them choose between two options (like soup or a sandwich) is simpler than asking them vaguely what they’d like for lunch, but allowing them to make the decision is still beneficial.
- Keep healthy foods in sight – Store healthy snacks that you want your loved one to eat on the table or counter where they can see them. They’re likely to forget what’s in the cupboards or fridge, and simply take the food that’s in front of them. If your loved one is prone to snacking, this can be an easy way to let them snack while staying healthy.
- Make meals social – Consider meals as opportunities for social interaction and conversation. Keep the mood light and casual.
- Be consistent with routines – Try to stay as consistent as possible with your loved one’s preferences, and build a routine around techniques that work. When possible, serve their meals in the same place at the same time, and try to avoid introducing new, unfamiliar elements into their routine.
- Patience is required – Due to the challenges of mid- to late-stage memory loss, your loved one may require a longer time to finish their meal. Be patient and give your loved one the time they need to eat. Sit with them and keep the conversation going, even if you’ve already finished and want to start cleaning up.
- Get help when you need it – It can make life as a caregiver easier to have someone else make meals for you and your loved one. Services such as Meals on Wheels delivers prepared food right to your home.
- Watch out for safety concerns – Be on the lookout for signs that your loved one’s health and safety may be at risk. Common warning signs include burned food left on the stove, the oven is left on, or your loved one frequently forgets to eat. These are signs it’s time to intervene with your loved one’s eating habits to ensure they stay safe and healthy.
Care at Every Stage
“Taking care of your loved one’s meals and food consumption may be one of the biggest responsibilities as a caregiver,” says Bentley. “You’ll spend time and energy on this task several times a day, every day – and it’s so crucial to your loved one’s well-being. Taking care to plan healthy, successful meals can make a huge difference in your loved one’s health and quality of life.”
If you would like to know more about planning successful meals for your loved one with Alzheimer’s, or would like to learn about the services available at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team!
Clarity Pointe™ … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.