Healthy Dining with Alzheimer's

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couple eating dinner

People who have Alzheimer’s often lose an unhealthy amount of weight as the disease progresses. Research shows up to 40 percent of people with advanced Alzheimer’s lose too much weight. Learning more about what causes this type of weight loss and how to work around those issues is essential for family caregivers.

From vision changes that make it difficult to distinguish food on the plate to loss of dexterity, which impedes hand-eye coordination, here’s what you should know to help your loved one.

Causes of Weight Loss in People with Alzheimer’s Disease

A leading reason for weight loss is impaired manual dexterity. This causes difficulty manipulating silverware. It can cause the senior to become frustrated and give up.

Vision changes are another cause. Issues with depth perception and the ability to see color make it difficult to see food on a plate. While chicken tenders are easy for people with Alzheimer’s to eat, they can disappear on a plate of the same color.

Other challenges that lead to weight loss in adults with Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Loss of appetite or change in taste buds that makes food unappealing
  • Difficulty swallowing or frequent choking episodes
  • Improperly fitting dentures that make it hard to chew

Lastly, the dining environment can also affect mealtime for adults with memory impairment. Noise can be especially problematic. It can make it tough for someone with Alzheimer’s to concentrate on eating. A busy or cluttered dining room can also increase anxiety and agitation. Both can result in pacing and wandering instead of eating.

Steps to Good Nutrition for Adults with Alzheimer’s

Here are a few ways you can encourage healthy nutrition in a senior loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. Dining room: An orderly dining room free from noise and distractions can encourage the senior to eat. Remove everything from the tabletop except necessary dinnerware. If your loved one responds positively to music, play it softly in the background.
  2. Finger foods: Serving finger foods, those that don’t require utensils, can promote nutrition while requiring less hand-eye coordination. A few to consider are chicken nuggets, fruit smoothies, sandwich wraps, fresh vegetables, and chicken quesadillas.
  3. Place settings: Use plates and placemats in contrasting colors. Colorful plates and dishes make food easier to distinguish. Red has been particularly useful in encouraging appetite. The Red Plate Study at Boston University showed people with Alzheimer’s ate 25 percent more food if it was served on red dinnerware.
  4. Adaptive serving ware: If your loved one is having difficulty manipulating silverware, talk to their primary care physician or an occupational therapist about adaptive options. Plate guards and food bumpers are two devices that make it easier to pick food up off the plate.
  5. Flavorful seasonings: Since taste buds may be impaired by Alzheimer’s, adding flavorful seasonings and herbs may stimulate appetite. It may also help to add more seasoning than you typically would to enhance the taste.
  6. Dental checkups: If you haven’t taken your family elder to see the dentist in a while, an appointment may help. There may be an undetected tooth problem or their dentures may not fit due to weight loss. The dentist might be able to detect a problem that makes chewing painful.

Finally, be flexible. If your loved one feels best during the morning, serve a hearty breakfast. Or if your family member has difficulty sitting very long, serve small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day instead of several large ones.

Memory Care at Five Star Senior Living

In our memory care neighborhoods, residents benefit from specialized dining. It helps them maintain a healthy weight. The best way to learn more is to visit a Five Star Senior Living community in person. Call (617) 796-8387 to schedule a time!