How to help a family member with Alzheimer’s or dementia with eating

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If you are a caregiver for a parent or loved one struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you understand how difficult mealtime can be. Here are some strategies for making meals a little easier for both of you.

A couple reasons why it’s such a challenge for people with these conditions, is because of their progressive physical changes and poor depth perception. Appetites may also vary among individuals with dementia.  Some will want to eat all the time, while others have trouble eating a healthy amount.

Here are some tips to help make mealtimes more enjoyable and successful:

Environment and utensils

  • Use contrasting colored plates and linens to help with depth-perception problems.  It can be difficult to see food such as mashed potatoes on a white plate on a white table cloth. 
  • Provide adaptive equipment for independent eating such as scooped plates, large handled silverware, and cups with lids
  • Ensure adequate lighting in all dining areas
  • If utensils are cumbersome or frustrating, serve foods in edible containers such as pita bread, ice cream cones or taco shells
  • Make sure that the setting for meals is calm and quiet, and minimize distractions during meal times
  • Sit with your loved one during the meal.  Often, they will do what you’re doing and you can gently remind them throughout the meal if they get distracted.

Meal and dining preparation

  • Know their likes and dislikes and plan meals accordingly
  • Have the meal ready to serve prior to sitting your loved one at the table
  • Cut up foods prior to serving them
  • Let the person with Alzheimer’s disease help set the table and prepare the meal

When and what to eat

  • Provide a small number of choices of food and serve small portions frequently throughout the day. Large portions can be overwhelming which can prevent them from eating any of it.
  • Serve meals around the same time every day
  • Provide finger foods if they can no longer use silverware, or for those that pace and wander

Drinks and fluids

  • Offer plenty of liquids with the meal to help with digestion
  • Flavor water with lemon or orange slices
  • Keep fluids within easy reach and use travel cups to prevent spills
  • Don’t serve really cold fluids which can be uncomfortable to loved ones with broken or chipped teeth
  • Add additional fluids by serving Jell-O, soup, pudding, popsicles, smoothies or “mocktails” 


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