Caring for people with Dementia: Mealtimes

Caring for people with dementia at mealtimes can sometimes be a daunting experience.  Here are some handy tips and information to reduce stress and improve the mealtime experience for everybody.

Mealtimes: Cause for Anxiety?

If mealtimes are becoming ‘difficult’ the first step is to consider what might be going on for the person with dementia.  Their actions and anxiety could be because they:

  • Forget the time which leads to forgetting to eat
  • May not recognize hunger signals
  • No longer recognize the food in front of them or even what the fork is for
  • Can’t remember the sequence in the process of eating
  • Have issues around swallowing itself which makes them fearful

Other challenges you may meet when supporting people with dementia:

  • Changes in food preferences (because of changes in taste & smell),
  • Poor hand to mouth coordination,
  • Loss of interest/Loss of Appetite
  • Suspicious of food they don’t recognize
  • Pacing and difficulties settling

Dining Environment

People with dementia feel less anxious when they feel secure.  Being surrounded by familiar things and using the same routine brings security and helps them relax.  Because they have forgotten things they rely on cues and signals from others.  Sometimes they depend on what you do and what you say to know how they should act.   Understanding this, it is helpful to them if you:

  • Go with the place where they like to eat (security/familiarity)
  • Use reminders to let them know that it’s time to eat
  • Let them help you prepare the food (reminder)
  • Ask them to help lay the table (reminder)
  • Use the same seats at the table (security/familiarity)
  • Check they are comfortable before starting – already toileted, have everything they need with them
  • Consider if there are distractions – positioning, noise e.g TV/Radio, mirrors, interruptions from others
  • Only put out what is needed as needed – reduced choices makes things simpler
  • Use contrast in surface and utensils: placemats/table cloth in a block colour is good
  • Avoid patterns on the table as they are confusing/distracting for people with dementia.
  • Make plenty of time around mealtimes so people feel relaxed.

An Occupational Therapist can help with advice on adaptive crockery and cutlery to promote independence and address any specific issues.

Company at Mealtimes – A Support?

Having company when dining can be a good idea when caring for people with Dementia for many reasons because you can

  • Make quality time for the person,
  • Give encouragement to eat,
  • Remind them what the particular food is
  • Provide cues so they can copy if needed
  • Check food temperature to keep them safe

Sitting with the person will encourage them – it is the best way to support them at mealtimes. Promoting independence and dignity at mealtimes is so important – proper time and respect must always be shown to people with dementia.

What’s on the Plate?

  • Food the person likes – even if the combination is unusual!
  • Colourful food is most appealing
  • Do not overload the plate
  • Make sure food temperature is safe

Seek Professional Advice

Each person’s journey with dementia is unique, therefore any difficulties will be individual to them.  Therefore you need to get appropriate professional advice to suit your specific situation.

If you are concerned about someone losing weight it is important to take action.  You should keep a chart of the person’s weight and also get input from a Dietician.  Your GP or Public Health Nurse (PHN) can help with referral.  The GP may prescribe nutritional supplement drinks to ensure intake of essential vitamins and minerals if the weight loss is severe.

Some of the disciplines you may need to be linked into include:

  • Community Nutritionist or Dietician,
  • Occupational therapist,
  • Physiotherapist,
  • Speech and language therapist.

Here is an excellent information leaflet available from the Health Promotions Unit with plenty of practical tips and answering a range of mealtime issues.  Other resources listings to support carers are available here and more about the progression of  Alzheimer’s/Dementia.

We have in-house Dementia Care specialists so phone us on 4992201 if you need additional care support to help keep your loved one safe at home.