Dementia affects individuals on many levels. Memory loss, confusion, reduced coordination, and fatigue are the more common symptoms. One change that is equally important but sometimes hidden and hence not discussed as frequently is diet. Diet plays a big role in impacting the health and lifestyle of those living with dementia. In this article, we will discuss the importance of managing healthy diet and eating practices, along with tips for helping caregivers make meals easy, and appealing.
Diet & Health Impacts
Healthy diet for individuals with dementia goes beyond ensuring a daily serving of fruits and vegetables. Mismanagement of diet can result in several complications for the person with dementia and the type of care they receive.
Often, memory loss or confusion can result in individuals being unable to remember whether they have eaten or not in the first place. In some instances, people will forget right after eating a meal and will request a second meal leading to weight gain. In other cases, they might forget to eat altogether and due to their disorientation they are unable to recognize hunger pangs. This can result in excess weight gain or malnutrition leading to muscular degeneration due to poor diet.
Reduced coordination can make meal times difficult. If it’s challenging to feed oneself, individuals with dementia can become reluctant to eat, preferring to skip meals instead of struggling to feed themselves.
Memory loss and confusion can also manifest in forgetting meal time likes and dislikes. This makes meal planning and consumption challenging when the person with dementia won’t eat or doesn’t like the meal and the caregiver cannot understand why.
Diet & Lifestyle Impacts
Poor diet or dietary habits have greater lifestyle impacts, too. When a person with Dementia is constantly hungry or overfed, their temperament, behavior, and physical capabilities are changed. This can show up as low energy, crankiness, low blood sugar, fatigue, and headaches.
Individuals with dementia might be wary to eat with family at meal times. They might feel uncertain if they don’t know what type of meal is being provided and whether it is something they will enjoy.
There is also an impact on physical lifestyle. Weakened or overfed individuals are less likely to be able to stay physically active and go for walks or enjoy the outdoors. Both past times have been clinically shown to positively impact individuals with Dementia.
- The primary and most important tip for managing diet for individuals with Dementia is the need for an experienced caregiver to oversee meal planning, preparation, and assisting with feeding, and keeping a detailed analysis of diet related data points on a daily basis.
- In the initial stages of Dementia, caregivers are able to provide a prepared meal and rely on the person with Dementia to manage eating it themselves. In later stages, memory loss and disorientation make it more difficult for individuals to navigate meals and meal times independently. It’s prudent, in the moderate to severe stages of dementia, to have a caregiver who plans meal preparation, ensures that it’s eaten on time, and can help with any difficulties utilizing cutlery, etc.
- Caregivers should pay attention to likes and dislikes at meal times. It is both easier and beneficial to provide meals that cater to the individual’s palate and preferences to keep meals enjoyable.
- Nutritious and balanced meals that provide required servings of proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats and fiber are essential. When people with dementia are unable to advocate for themselves, it’s important to give them meals that will satiate their hunger and help them stay healthy.
- Meal times should not be stressful or tense. Caregivers will need to be patient and focus on the positives as it can become challenging to feed individuals with later-stage Dementia. However, a stressful environment will discourage people from eating and a hesitation to eat with other family members around.
- Keep it simple. Keep it familiar. Meal times for individuals with Dementia are not the place to experiment and attempt new culinary ideas. Meals should be simple so that people are able to recognize what they are eating and feel comfortable eating it. Keeping meals familiar helps decrease the overwhelming sense of confusion when people are navigating memory loss. A familiar meal is comforting and easy to manage.
The links below are helpful resources to better understand and educate oneself about the importance of managing diet, meal time habits, and healthy eating, when living with Dementia.
Managing care for a loved one with dementia is challenging on many levels. There are multiple roles and responsibilities to fulfill, and it is a full-time job.
With over 17 years of experience across the Dallas and Fort Worth Metroplex, Care Mountain provides quality, and highly experienced caregivers to help support you and your loved one living with Dementia . We have worked with families from Dallas, Preston Hollow, Highland Park, Southlake, Richardson, Plano, McKinney, Frisco, to Arlington and provide flexible options for both live-in and hourly in-home care.
Your carefully matched and personalized caregiver can help with daily tasks and provide your loved one with consistent care and comfort in the familiar surroundings of your loved one’s home. From meal planning and preparation to implementing effective strategies that support a healthy lifestyle, Care Mountain can provide support at every stage.