If you know someone who has dementia, you might have noticed that they’re eating much less than they did before. If someone isn’t eating enough, it can lead to weight loss, reduced muscle strength, tiredness and weakness, frailty and a decreased ability to recover from infections or viruses. It’s crucial that we all eat a healthy, nutritious diet, but how do you convince someone to eat when they are refusing? Express.co.uk reveals four tips to get someone with dementia to eat more, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
People with dementia often start to eat much less than they would in the past, and there are many reasons for that.
For example, it could be that the person has physical difficulties and struggles to chew and swallow, or they experience constipation.
Sometimes the patient could be in pain or discomfort due to issues with dentures, sore gums or painful teeth.
Depression is common in people with dementia and it can cause a loss of appetite, so their mental health could be the root cause.
Communication could also be at the heart of the issue. The patient might be hungry, but has issues communicating it. They might not like the food they’ve been given, or it could be too hot.
Dementia often causes extreme tiredness and an inability to concentrate, so this might be why you see a person with dementia eating less or giving up halfway through a meal.
You might notice your loved one who has dementia struggling to focus on a meal all the way through.
It could also be that the person is less hungry because they aren’t as active during the day.
Equally, the person is very active or restless, they might be someone who uses extra calories and may be hungrier than usual or lose weight more quickly.
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Get to know their likes and dislikes
If you want to get a dementia patient to eat a substantial amount, you should get to know their likes and dislikes as much as possible.
Like any person, someone with dementia will have their own needs, routines, likes and dislikes and you should honour that.
First thing’s first, try your best to give them food that they like and make it look and smell appealing.
The Alzheimer’s Society said: “Use different tastes, colours and smells. The aroma of cooking – for example freshly baked bread – can stimulate someone’s appetite.”
Be warned though, a person’s food preferences can change as their dementia progresses.
The site explained: “A person with dementia may begin to develop changes in how they experience flavour.
“They may start to enjoy flavours they never liked before or dislike foods they always liked.
“Sometimes people with dementia make food choices that don’t match their usual beliefs or preferences.
“For example, a person who has been a lifelong vegetarian may want to eat meat because their preference has changed, they remember that they used to eat meat, they have forgotten they don’t eat meat, or they see you or someone else eating meat and wants the same.
“For similar reasons, people who have other beliefs may start to want something different that they previously wouldn’t have eaten.
“For example, a person who does not eat pork for religious reasons may start to want pork. It can be difficult to know what to do in these situations.”
If you want more advice on how to tackle changing food habits, you can head to the Alzheimer’s Society website here.
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Don’t overwhelm the patient
Whatever you do, don’t go overboard and try to overfeed the person with dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society site advised: “Try not to overload the plate with too much food – small and regular portions often work best.
“Consider serving half portions to keep hot food from going cold and losing its appeal.”
If the patient prefers to eat little and often or doesn’t want to eat meals at set times or at a table, make finger foods and allow them to ‘pick’ at what they want.
The advice reads: “Try finger foods such as sausage rolls, falafel, samosas, spring rolls, sandwiches, slices of fruit and vegetables so they can snack on these instead.
“Some full meals could be served as finger foods, for example, roast dinner, as long as they’re presented in easy-to-hold pieces.”
Don’t be too harsh
There is no denying that trying to encourage someone with dementia to eat can be frustrating, but don’t get angry at them.
The Alzheimer’s Society stressed: “If the person refuses food, try again a bit later. Remember that these reactions are not a deliberate attempt to be ‘difficult’, or a personal attack.
“Give the person gentle reminders to eat, and remind them what the food is.
“If the person is agitated or distressed, don’t put pressure on them. Wait until they are calm and less anxious before offering food and drink.”
Equally, when the person is eating you should try not to overly manage what they’re doing – let them be!
The website added: “Don’t stop someone eating dessert if they haven’t eaten their savoury meal. They may prefer the taste of the dessert.
“And, don’t assume the person has finished because they’ve stopped eating.”
Rules are great, but experimenting a bit might help you find a method that works best for you and the dementia patient.
The Alzheimer’s Society advice reads: “Use eating and drinking as an opportunity for activity and social stimulation.
“It may be an opportunity to talk about food from their childhood, and this could help to encourage their appetite. They could also help with preparing the food.
“Try different types of food and drink with varying temperatures and textures, such as milkshakes or potato wedges.
“Look for opportunities to encourage the person to eat. For example, if they’re awake for much of the night then night-time snacks may be a good idea.”
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