Alzheimer’s disease and eating problems: Tips to encourage and improve nutrition in dementia patients

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Alzheimers | Monday, November 07, 2016 - 02:30 PM

eating problems in alzheimer's disease patientsIn patients with Alzheimer’s disease, eating problems can be quite common. Eating problems in Alzheimer’s disease increase the risk for malnutrition and can worsen other health conditions the patient may already have.

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, patients may forget to eat or they may even develop difficulties eating, but one thing is for certain: proper eating is very important in Alzheimer’s disease.

Eating and drinking is essential for all people to stay healthy as it provides us with proper nutrition and hydration essential for healthy bodily functions. Insufficient nutrition and hydration can lead to deterioration of overall health, including mental health, as well as weight loss, dehydration, reduced communication abilities, infections, constipation, among other things.

Recognizing the underlying causes for eating and drinking problems can help patients improve their nutrition all the while preventing further complications.

Common reasons why Alzheimer’s patients may lose interest in eating and drinking

Common problems why Alzheimer’s patients may lose interest in eating and drinking may stem from poor appetite, physical disability, and sensory impairments.

There are numerous reasons for poor appetite to develop, including depression, communication problems (they can’t express when they are hungry), pain, tiredness, medication side effects, physical inactivity, and constipation.

Some patients may not recognize food or drink, so they simply don’t consume it. This can be due to damage to the brain brought on by Alzheimer’s or due to vision problems. Some patients may lose their ability to concentrate, so they become distracted while eating and stop eating as a result. Just because a person has stopped eating, the caregiver may think they are full when in fact they may actually get back to their meal if it is still present once they can focus on it again.

Other patients may experience difficulty using utensils or raising a glass. It may also be challenging to bring the food from the plate to their mouth. Patients may need to be reminded to open their mouths in order to put food in it or even to chew.

If a patient has another condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, it can make eating even more challenging, as they may suffer from muscle weakness or tremors, too.

Some foods may need to be avoided if they are too difficult to chew and swallow, because they are too large, too hard, or even too dry.

Another common problem in more severe dementia cases is dysphagia, which is difficulty swallowing. Dysphagia can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, or dehydration.

Lastly, sensory difficulties can impede on a person’s ability to eat or drink. This involves losing the ability to gauge food temperature, leading to burns and making eating more uncomfortable. One may also develop a reduced feeling of thirst, not being aware of their thirst and thus not drinking. It’s important you take note of any of these sensory problems in order to address them and ensure the patient eats and drinks properly.

Tips to increase appetite and interest in food in Alzheimer’s disease patients

Diverticulitis diet: Foods to eat and foods to avoidIn order to boost appetite and interest in food in Alzheimer’s disease patients, the following tips can help.

  • Make food look and smell appealing.
  • Look for additional opportunities for eating. For example, if a patient is awake at night, then nighttime snacks can be useful.
  • Give the patient foods they like.
  • Don’t overload a patient’s plate – smaller but more frequent meals can be useful.
  • Ensure food is in small pieces, so it’s easy to chew.
  • Try different types of foods and drinks, like a milkshake or smoothie.
  • Ensure food temperature isn’t too hot.
  • Don’t stop a patient from eating dessert even if they haven’t finished their savory meal.
  • If swallowing is an issue, opt for softer foods or liquid food.
  • Have the patient help out with mealtime preparation.
  • Encourage the patient with friendly reminders.
  • Use mealtime as a way of social interaction.
  • If the person initially refuses food, try again a bit later.
  • Don’t remove food from the person just because they stopped eating – they may be temporarily distracted and will resume once again.

Improving the eating environment for Alzheimer’s disease patients

Another aspect of improving eating and drinking is by improving the eating environment. Here’s what you as a caregiver can do to improve the eating environment:

  • Eat with the person and turn your meal into a social experience.
  • Make the environment appealing by using familiar sounds or smells to entice eating.
  • Keep the table free of clutter.
  • Keep the environment quiet and free of distractions.
  • Play soothing music at some meals.
  • Follow the patient’s lead on when they want to eat.
  • Allow the patient to choose where they want to sit and eat, even what they want to eat.
  • Ensure the patient can see the food, that it is colorful, and the room is well lit.
  • Don’t worry about the mess that can result from eating.
  • Avoid making the patient feel rushed and allow them to eat at their own pace.

It’s important that patients with Alzheimer’s disease eat and drink to ensure proper overall health. These tips can help you as a caregiver improve eating and drinking habits all the while keeping the patient healthy.


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Related Reading:

Alzheimer’s disease risk may increase with Western diet: Study

Alzheimer’s disease progression may be delayed or slowed with walnut-enriched diet: Study

Sources:

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=149#Eating%20environment
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/alzheimers/art-20047918

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