Dec 16, 2016

How to Get an Alzheimer's Patient to Eat More Food

Don't approach the problems that come along with dementia with dread. Instead think positive, and find a solution. You might be able to benefit from some of these eating tips.

How to Get a Dementia Patient to Eat More Food
As Alzheimer's or dementia progress getting a patient to eat a nutritious meal, or to eat enough, can become a problem.

This can cause the Alzheimer's caregiver to become frustrated, confused, and even angry. It can also bring on feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

There are a long list of potential problems that cause dementia patients to eat less. There are also many ways that can be tried to deal with or eliminate the problem.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

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The most important factor in this wide spread problem is in fact the color of the plate.

What color is your plate?

In a study conducted at Boston University researchers found that patients eating from red plates consumed 25 percent more food than those eating from white plates.

Patients eating from red plates consumed 25 percent more food than those eating from white plates.

Solid red plates, no pattern embedded. I think I made this point sufficiently clear.

Many caregivers understand that as dementia progresses vision and spatial problems can affect the ability of Alzheimer's patients to do things. For example, my mother would often stop walking when she reached an area of white tile in our home. It was almost like there was an in visible fence. I often wondered why. Interesting when she was going in the other direction - from white tile to blue carpet she never stopped.

Are you using white plates when you feed your loved one? If so, consider red plates.

Interestingly, one day while I was watching the Dr. OZ television show a nutritionist he had on the show said -- "don't eat off red plates because you will eat more".

Here are some of eating tips for dementia patients.

1. Utensils. At some point your patient might have problems using forks, knives, spoons, etc. If so, consider trying finger food. Chicken strips, fish stick, hamburgers, and even shrimp fall into this category.

2. Make eye contact while eating. If possible sit directly in front of your dementia patient and make eye contact with them and smile before you start eating. Then start eating without talking. Hopefully they will follow your lead. Be patient you might have to do this for a while before it starts working. Get the smile back.

3. Arrange the food on the plate. If the patient is having trouble eating, less food (portion size), and less items. One or two food choices. In addition, if there is one food your patient really likes, put that on the plate and another food right next to it. In our case my mother loved mashed potatoes. So, I placed the dish in a away so the mashed potatoes where on the right (as she looked at the plate), and the cut meat (steak, chicken, pork chop, etc) where on the left. My mother ate left handed and this is why I put the mashed potato on the right. I also cut the meat or fish in very small pieces. She had to go over the meat to get to the potatoes with her fork, so my thought was she had to see the meat.

4. Praise the food. It is best to get in the habit of eating right along with your patient. If you are going to talk, praise the food. Not a long explanation, a simple explanation - yum, this is delicious. Good positive reinforcement can be helpful. You might praise your patient for eating also.

5. Create a Positive Atmosphere before you eat. Don't just plop the food down in front of your loved one. Create a positive atmosphere. For example, while I had Dotty sitting at the kitchen table, and while I was preparing the meal, I would start singing one of Dotty's favorite songs, like Shine on Harvest Moon. Or, I would just make up some song to get her attention and get her to interact with me. Singing always put Dotty in a good mood.

6. Shut up. Once Dotty started eating I would usually shut up. This was so she wouldn't get distracted from the food. Alzheimer's patients are easily distracted, and can get confused if you try and get them to - multitask. One task at a time.

7. Eat small all day long. I know our friends in Australia and New Zealand will get a kick out of this one. I would give Dotty six potato chips at a time. If you can get your loved one to eat a small amount, several times during the day, that might help.

8. How important is nutrition? It is important for certain. However, you have to realistic. For example, ice cream usually works very well. It is a source of liquid. You might have to resort to using Boost or Ensure to supplement meals. I did that in the latter stages. About 3-4 ounces at most, at one time. Think this way. One piece of broccoli or spinach is better than nothing. So thing small all day long.

Ask yourself some questions. What did your Alzheimer's patient like to eat best in the past? Not what you like or think is best, what did they like? Dotty would eat linguine with white clam sauce with reckless abandon every time. She loved it. She also like pork chops, and mashed potatoes. I ate more pork chops and mashed potatoes while I was caring for Dotty than I had in the previous 30 years.

9. Eating is a problem. About 40 percent of Alzheimer's patients start losing an unhealthy amount of weight at some point. So, this is a common caregiver problem. You are not alone with this problem.

Try not to get frustrated. Instead, think positive, smile when it is time to eat, and sing or play music.

Try to be flexible and patient. Patience means giving your patient plenty of time to eat without chastising them or blaming them for not eating. They would eat if they could, so resist the temptation to get all stressed and negative. Try this. How would you like to be treated if you were having problems eating through no fault of your own?

Alzheimer's patients move slowly, and they are usually on a different clock then we are. Get on their clock, slow down.

Don't approach the problems that come along with dementia with dread. Instead, focus in on what a wonderful caregiver you can be.

The Best Way to Find Solutions to the Problems that Caregivers Face Each Day

Yes, you can be wonderful. Of this I have no doubt.

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The ARR knowledge base contains more than 5,000 articles with more than 810,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room