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.
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By Beth Fontenot, MS, LDN, RD
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. After a decade in food service for Hyatt Hotels, Judy launched Food and Health Communications to focus on flavor and health. She graduated with Summa Cum Laude distinction from Johnson and Wales University with a BS in Culinary Art, holds a master’s degree in Food Business from the Culinary Institute of America, 2 art certificates from UC Berkeley Extension, and runs a food photography studio where her love is creating fun recipes.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.