Eating and Drinking
People with dementia frequently lose interest in food. They may miss meals, forget they've eaten, or eat whatever is on hand. Any or all of these behaviors can make mealtimes difficult. Poor nutrition can also compromise your loved one's health and well-being.
Establish a Mealtime Routine
Eating with someone who isn't hungry, pushes away foods, or becomes frustrated and upset is difficult and unpleasant for everyone at the table. Try to serve meals at the same time every day and limit distractions while you are eating. Turn off the TV, radio, and phone so you can focus on eating. Eat together. Make meals an enjoyable event so that your loved one looks forward to the experience.
Put out only the utensils you need for the meal. Try to serve only one or two foods at a time. Too many choices may be confusing.
Your loved one may develop a sudden craving for food she never cared about before and leave old favorites on her plate. Try to be flexible. If she doesn't eat enough — or if she's always hungry — make sure to have healthy finger foods such as fruit and vegetables on hand.
Avoid Food Hazards
Remember that people with dementia may have difficulty swallowing. Be careful if you serve popcorn, carrots, and nuts. All of these foods can get caught in the throat. You may want to avoid them altogether. Always be sure to check the temperature of food you serve, as your loved one might not realize something is too hot or cold.
Keep the table setting calm and simple. Put the candles, flowers, and condiments aside. Bottles of ketchup, sauce, salt, and pepper can confuse someone with AD. Set the table with simple, unpatterned plates that set off the color and texture of the food. People with dementia lose visual and spatial abilities, and they may have trouble distinguishing the food from the plate.
Manners and Mess
Once-fastidious people may start eating with their fingers, spilling things, and making a mess at the dinner table as their symptoms progress. If your loved one is sitting down and eating healthy meals, you may not care that she's making a mess. If it bothers you, consider these strategies:
Use a plastic tablecloth or placemat for easier cleanup.
Set the table with sturdy plastic dishes and cups.
Use plastic smocks or aprons.
Use knives, forks, and spoons with handles that are easy to manipulate. These are available in medical supply stores and catalogs, but you might also check for picnic and barbeque utensils.
Use plates with suction cups to prevent sliding.
Put plastic cloth on the floor for any spillage.
People with dementia gradually lose the ability to perform rote tasks like eating or combing their hair. In mid-stage dementia, you can offer cues, miming how to use a spoon or comb and reminding her what to do.
Thirst and Dehydration
Your body's ability to detect thirst diminishes with age. Older people and people with dementia are more likely than most to suffer serious dehydration. Typically, the problem is caused by not drinking enough liquid or excreting too much urine. But many illnesses and medications can also cause dehydration as well. Dehydration can cause headaches, dry mouth and tongue, and more serious conditions, including confusion and disorientation — the most common symptoms of dementia. Be sure your loved one drinks enough liquids every day.