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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

Navigating Food Fights: Helping Our Loved Ones with Dementia Enjoy Meals


Caring for someone with dementia is a journey filled with ups and downs. Among the challenges we face as caregivers, one that truly tugs at my heartstrings is the issue of food. Our loved ones commonly exhibit puzzling behaviors around mealtime, from refusing to eat to making a playful mess with their food. These moments can leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Let's explore why these food-related hurdles occur and share some down-to-earth tips to ensure our dear ones with dementia get the nourishment they need while enjoying a delightful mealtime.

  1. Confusion About Mealtimes: Imagine serving breakfast when they think it's dinner time. It can lead to a mealtime standoff, with food being pushed aside. This happens because dementia often messes with their sense of time.

  2. Changes in Food Preferences: Dementia can play tricks on their taste buds. Foods they once loved may suddenly become unappealing. So, finding foods they still enjoy can be a bit like solving a puzzle. Towards the end of Joe's journey, he would request only hot dogs and mac and cheese. It was a childhood favorite and one of the only things he knew how to ask for.

  3. Perception and Recognition: As dementia progresses, your loved ones might struggle to recognize food items. That plate of veggies? To them, it might resemble toys or pieces of a puzzle. Sometimes, eating with them or feeding the first spoon affirms that it is good food.

  4. Distractions: Have you ever had to compete with the TV or have a lively conversation during dinner? For someone with dementia, these distractions can make it difficult to focus on their food.

  5. Physical Discomfort: Here's the tricky part – they might not always tell us when something hurts. Discomfort can be a significant appetite spoiler, like an upset stomach or pain.

Helpful Tips:

  1. Establish a Routine: Set regular mealtimes to reduce confusion. Consistency can be comforting.

  2. Adapt the Environment: Make mealtime a peaceful affair. Turn off the TV, close those curtains, and minimize noise. It's all about creating a serene atmosphere. Also, remove tempting playthings such as condiments, salt and pepper, and table decorations.

  3. Familiar Foods: Try to whip up dishes they used to adore. But be ready to tweak recipes to suit their changing tastes.

  4. Serve Finger Foods: If utensils are proving tricky, think finger foods. Easy-to-grab bites can boost their independence and lessen frustration.

  5. Provide Visual Cues: Make food more appealing with colorful plates and utensils. Contrast the dish from the table with placemats. The dish color helps focus on the food on the plate. You can even use food molds to shape purees into recognizable forms.

  6. Engage in Meal Preparation: Involving your loved one in cooking can bring a sense of achievement and connection. Let them set the table or help with simple tasks. Food cooking smells also enhance the appetite.

  7. Monitor for Discomfort: Keep an eye out for signs of discomfort, like wincing or restlessness. If you suspect something's wrong, consult a healthcare expert.

  8. Stay Patient and Calm: Involve them in family meals. Eating together is often successful as they can see what others are doing and they are eating the same thing. However, mealtime frustrations can also test you and your family's patience, but a calm and understanding approach is critical. Arguments won't help.

  9. Consult a Dietitian: Worried about their nutrition? Reach out to a nutritionist with expertise in dementia care. They can guide you in supplements and creating well-balanced, enticing meals.

Easing Mealtime Struggles in Dementia Care, we share the heartfelt journey of caring for our loved ones who battle dementia-related challenges at mealtime. From the heart-wrenching confusion about when to eat, I've witnessed the transformation of food preferences. My friendly advice that I've learned along the way is to help caregivers create a peaceful dining atmosphere, find creative ways to adapt to changing tastes, and ensure our loved ones receive the nourishment they deserve. Through understanding, patience, and a sprinkle of creativity, we hope to make mealtimes a source of comfort and connection amidst the trials of dementia care. Remember, a sprinkle of patience, a dash of flexibility, and a generous serving of empathy can go a long way in making these food fights a little easier for everyone involved.


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