A person with dementia may find eating difficult. Loss of appetite, loss of memory and problems with judgement can cause difficulties with food, eating and nutrition. Your loved one may forget how to chew and swallow or may be distracted by their environment. Many people with dementia lose some ability to feed themselves, creating a significant challenge for family caregivers, as well as feelings of anxiety. People with dementia often experience unintentional weight loss and therefore can be at risk of malnutrition. Weight loss is common in people with dementia, although the causes vary. They may include lack of appetite, difficulties cooking, problems with communicating or recognising hunger. Dementia may also cause some people to overeat or even develop an insatiable (unstoppable) appetite.
Mealtimes provide us with an opportunity to spend time with our family and friends, as well as share food together. However, this can become stressful for your loved ones with dementia and their carers. We advise you not to rush mealtimes. Remind your loved one to chew and swallow carefully, and allow him or her as much time as necessary. Involving your loves one with meal preparation in the early stages of dementia can be rewarding, they can assist with tasks such as setting the table, carrying food items to the table and calling the children and other members of the family for mealtime.
Stages of dementia
In the early stages of dementia, your loved one might forget to eat or lose the skills needed to prepare proper meals. Call to remind him or her to eat or help with food preparation. If you make meals in advance, be sure to review how to unwrap and reheat them. You might also consider using a meal delivery service. As their dementia progresses, your loved one might forget their table manners and eat from your plate or out of serving bowls. Changes in the brain might cause him or her to lose impulse control and judgment and, in turn, eat anything in sight, including non-food items. Remaining calm and patient during this stage is particularly important. Some persons with dementia will only eat certain foods, this might be related to the sensory properties of the food. It is also important to keep an eye on your loved ones while they are eating, some might take certain foods out of their mouths with their hands, this may be related to their inability to chew the food or resistance towards the texture of the food.
Underlying problems that come naturally with old age could also cause eating problems with your loved ones. Check for common problems such as mouth sores or other oral, denture or dental issues, effects of specific medication that decrease appetite and chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems and depression. Dehydration is also very common in dementia and encouraging your loved one to drink juice or water with meals, is an easy way to ensure that they are taking in fluids.
If you’re caring for a loved one who has dementia, understand what causes eating problems and how you can encourage good nutrition. Ensuring good nutrition can be a challenge, but it’s worthwhile. Good nutrition can help your loved one cope both physically and emotionally.