Helping People With Alzheimer’s

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Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients have a difficult job. Mealtime can be especially frustrating, but there are ways to decrease the frustrations and increase the food intake of the person with Alzheimer’s disease.

1. Establish a routine.
Serve meals in the same place and at approximately the same time every day. Have the person sit in the same chair at every meal.

2. Create a quiet, calm atmosphere.
Turn off the television or radio. Try to avoid making or taking telephone calls while the person is eating. Limit the number of people in the room during mealtime. Soft music may be calming to some, but agitating to others. Have the person face a wall rather than a window or traffic area to minimize distractions.

3. Keep the table setting simple.
Avoid flowers, centerpieces, condiments, and food items other than the plate. Avoid patterned dishes, placements, or tablecloths that can be visually confusing. Use contrasting solid colors to help the person more easily recognize dishes and food. For example, oatmeal in a white bowl may not be easily recognizable to the person with Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Avoid presenting too many items.
Presenting too many food items at one time may confuse and frustrate the person. Avoid giving the person a full plate of food so that he or she has to make choices about what to eat. It often works best to place each food item on a small plate or in a small bowl and give them to the person one at a time.

5. Stimulate the person’s senses.
Allow her to touch or smell the food if she doesn’t seem to recognize it. Describe the foods being served to her. Explain what time of day it is and what meal is being eaten. Serve the person’s favorite foods often.

6. Use the most appropriate utensil.
Spoons are often handled better than any other utensil. Bowls are often easier to eat from than plates. Sippy cups or cups with two handles may be helpful. Avoid the use of plastic utensils which can break and harm the person. Use finger foods when the person has difficulty handling utensils.

7. Share meals with the person.
The presence of a caregiver at mealtime can be reassuring and encourage the person to imitate eating behaviors. Encourage self-feeding but provide assistance when needed. Provide verbal cues such as, “Pick up your fork.” Give simple directions with just one or two steps. Constant reminders to continue eating may be necessary.

For more information:
www.ianr.unl.edu/pubs/foods/nf357.htm
www.alz.org/aboutus/library/rtrlnutr.htm
www.ahealthyme.com/article/primer/100276776
By Beth Fontenot, MS, LDN, RD

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