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Healthy Living: 5 Nutritional Suggestions and Habits that Support People with Dementia

Cormac Stanford

As with any medical condition, special attention should be paid to nutrition and dietary needs or habits. Plus, when there is a lack of awareness on the part of the person, say someone living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can create problems with routine and regularity, affect the absorption of nutrients, and impact overall health. Unfortunately, data has shown there to be a correlation between weight loss and dementia due to a major decrease in physical activity (often leading to atrophy and loss of muscle coordination). Medications also compound this problem due to a variety of side effects, such as behavioral changes, complications with chewing, and loss of appetite.

In order to combat some of these effects, here are 5 ways to ensure that a person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s is getting proper nutrition while you are supporting them:

Hydrate and Regulate

Hydration is important for all people—being dehydrated can lead to many problems. Making sure that people living with dementia are properly hydrated is extremely important, especially because they may not be moving or burning calories as much as they used to. Just because someone is not as active doesn’t mean that they don’t need a similar amount of water, so keep an eye on how much water he/she is taking in daily, or offer fruit, soups, juices, milkshakes, or smoothies to supplement.

Boost Mood with Food
People living with dementia or Alzheimer’s need balanced meals just like everyone else, so provide foods that are nutrient-rich, lean, made from whole grains, and low in saturated fats. Make sure to limit processed foods with refined sugars and high sodium levels. As an alternative, seasonings like herbs can really spice up a meal and can trigger the olfactory sense if the sense of taste starts to fail. However, there may be more nutritional considerations for people with dementia due to medications that they may be on and how they metabolize.

Spur Engagement with Proper Arrangement

During the middle stages of dementia, small distractions and offering too many choices can make eating more unenjoyable or difficult. Serving meals in a quiet environment without background noise is beneficial. Limiting how many food items are on the person’s plate can help, since these can contribute to confusion and decision paralysis. To avoid this, use different colored plates so they stand out and can be differentiated from one another. Also, don’t rush the person when eating; this can cause undue stress and frustration during meals.

Be Apt to Adapt

It is very important to alter the environment and tailor it to the needs of the person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Something as simple as removing clutter from the table (even as benign as a patterned tablecloth) can help. Providing forks and spoons with broader handles can facilitate eating better if the person has difficulty grasping, or only serving finger foods can really help for relying on hands to eat instead! If you fear that the person may drop dishes or spill liquids, you could use reusable melamine plates, plate guards, adapted utensils and cups as an alternative.

Put the Specialist on Speed Dial
It’s very important to have a medical professional who is well-versed in the needs of people living with dementia that you can turn to or call when necessary. For example, if medication is not doing enough or seems to be causing adverse side effects, call to discuss other options. Also, if you are seeing that the person’s appetite is dwindling or noticing more weight loss, the specialist may suggest serving calorie-rich nutritional supplements between meals.

For over ten years, Relish has earned a reputation as a resource to the Alzheimer’s and dementia community. Caregivers rely on our activities to improve wellbeing in friends and loved ones living with memory loss. Learn more at relish-life.com.