Tips For Successful Eating
Many people associate mealtimes with good food and companionship. They can be highlights of the day, and serve to anchor our sense of daily rhythms. Given the importance of meals for health and social reasons, a person who cannot participate in meals can become disoriented, isolated and under nourished.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, people with Alzheimer’s can struggle with utensils, take much longer to eat, and become easily distracted. Meals can turn into a challenge, and not a time to savor.
By making some relatively simple adjustments, caregivers can help their loved ones continue to successfully participate in the ritual of the meal. Here are some tips that White Oak has found to be helpful.
1. Create a Peaceful and Simple Environment.
Start with eliminating extraneous noises and objects. Turn off televisions and radios. Set a table without centerpieces that may be an “attractive nuisance.” Set the table with just the utensils that will be needed at that meal.
2. Include the Person in the Rituals Leading Up to the Meal
People with Alzheimer’s can have trouble relating to food that appears out of nowhere and without context, a problem in institutions that cook all the meals in a remote kitchen. Let the person know that a mealtime is coming up. If possible, have the person participate in the preparations for the meal, by setting the table, or watching and smelling the food as it cooks. Seeing the food being prepared, and feeling as though they are part of the activity, stimulates appetites and signals the body to prepare for eating.
3. Make It as Easy as Possible to See the Food.
It sounds so simple, but if your loved one wears glasses, make sure that they are wearing them. Keep the light level up so the table is well lit.
Many people with Alzheimer’s will develop problems with depth perception. As a result, avoid patterned tablecloths, napkins and plates.
Have you ever realized how much of the food we eat is white or light? (Rice, noodles, potatoes, fish, chicken, and many cereals). White Oak uses red plates so that the food will stand out better. While red plates offer the most contrast, other dark colors will work too.
If your loved one is having trouble using utensils, consider using plates with rims or bowls instead of plates. You may find that adaptive silverware helps. If these tips don’t work, build your meal around finger foods: cubes of cheese, sandwiches cut into quarters, hard boiled eggs, slices of fruit, fish sticks and chicken nuggets.
4. The Ingredients of Patience and Time
People with Alzheimer’s often take longer to eat than others. Plan accordingly. If you rush, the person may start associating mealtime with pressure and failure. Keep food temperatures in mind. You should not serve food too hot, and you may need to reheat food if the meal is going slowly.
If someone is having trouble eating, a full plate of food may be daunting, not appetizing. Try smaller portions, knowing that you can offer seconds. Or start with just one or two things on the plate. (If you go this route, start off with a protein dish).
5. Drink, Drink, Drink
Many older people lose interest in drinking liquids, and it can lead to a number of complications. Mealtime should not be the only time when liquids are offered, but their importance at mealtime should not be overlooked.
If you are still having challenges, take a look at the bigger picture. Is your family member taking medications that might affect appetite? Might he or she have dental problems that have not been communicated? Is your family member choking on food? If so, you should speak with your physician at once, as this is a problem that requires a medical evaluation.