Does your loved one become anxious when it’s time for a meal? If you’re caregiving for a family member who is living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you may be providing nutritious and delicious food but looking for ways to ease the anxiety when it is time to eat.
The importance of eating well when living with Alzheimer’s
Those living with Alzheimer’s need nutrients just like everyone else to help their body function. But due to some of the challenges of the illness, eating and mealtimes can become more difficult.
Not maintaining a well-balanced diet can lead to worsening behavioral symptoms and cause weight loss, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Alzheimer’s and eating anxiety: why it occurs
There are many reasons that mealtime can become a source of frustration and anxiety for those living with Alzheimer’s, including that they may forget to eat or believe that they have already eaten.
Other reasons for anxiety can include:
- They may become overwhelmed with too many choices, including food, utensils and objects placed on the table.
- They may not recognize the food you are serving.
- If they have dentures that don’t fit properly, they may not be able to tell you that eating is painful.
- They may be taking medication that affects their appetite.
- If they’re not getting enough exercise, their appetites can decrease.
- They may have a decreased sense of smell and taste making food less appealing.
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
Tips for making mealtime less anxious
Take steps to make mealtime more comfortable and ease the anxiety for your loved one living with Alzheimer’s. These steps can provide a calming experience and lower anxiety:
- Limit distractions in the eating area
- Keep the table setting simple
- Distinguish food from the plate
- Check the food temperature before serving
- Offer only one or two food items at a time
- Be flexible with food preferences
- Allow the person plenty of time to eat
- Eat together whenever possible
- Accommodate instead of arguing if the person doesn’t remember if he or she has eaten
How a memory care community can help
If your loved one exhibits anxiety when it is mealtime, a memory care community can help provide the right nutrients and make the experience more pleasant. The following are a few examples:
- Encourage independence
One benefit of a memory care community is having a compassionate staff who are specifically trained to assist people with cognitive challenges in dining. They receive instruction in how best to approach different behaviors and what practices may help the individual receive nourishment while promoting respect and independence.
- Help is available whenever needed
If you’re caring for a loved one at home, you may be alone in planning and preparing meals and trying to encourage your family member to eat. A memory care community has the staff available to assist residents during mealtime. They also will know the latest and best practices, such as hand-over-hand to help residents feed themselves or allow them to pace while eating.
- Adaptive dishes and utensils
You may not know all of the options that are available to help people who have cognitive issues. A memory care community will have a wide assortment of different dishes, cups and silverware that help a resident dine more comfortably. Communities know which foods are easier served in a bowl instead of a plate or they may use plates with edges and spoons and forks with larger handles.
- Adaptive food styles
You’ll likely find memory communities that prepare and present food that is most user-friendly to their residents, such as using finger foods which are easier to pick up. This helps the person receive nutrition while maintaining some independence and can include chicken nuggets, fish sticks, sandwiches, orange slices, steamed broccoli or cauliflower pieces.
- Aware of increased risk of choking
One of the difficulties as Alzheimer’s progresses is the difficulty in swallowing or chewing. As this can present an increased risk of choking, memory care communities will prepare foods that are easier to swallow. They are also aware of choking signs and are trained in how to respond to a resident in difficulty.
- Respond to decreased appetite or weight loss
Losing weight from a decreased appetite or lack of interest in eating can be common for those living with Alzheimer’s. It’s important to recognize the signs early and take steps to counteract this effect. Memory care communities will prepare special meals consisting of a person’s favorite foods, smaller meals but served more often or can also encourage increased physical activity to build an appetite.
- Promote the social aspect of dining
Social interactions are very important for those who are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. In a memory care community, mealtime can be a great opportunity for your loved one to interact with other residents and the staff in a relaxed setting. There is no rush to finish a meal.
Life at Tapestry Memory Care communities
We understand the challenges that eating and mealtime can bring to those living with Alzheimer’s. As nutrition is important to their health, we strive to make eating a positive experience and work with our residents to find the right foods and atmosphere to encourage their comfort while dining.
If you’re caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and finding it more difficult to meet the increasing needs to ensure a high quality of life, we hope you will consider memory care at one of our communities. We know this isn’t always an easy decision to make and we are here to answer any questions that you may have.
Our staff is specially trained in the best practices and ways to connect with our residents. Our person-centered approach, services, amenities and activities all play an important role in helping both your loved one and your family live a meaningful and connected life.
We understand that choosing the right community is an important decision. If you would like more information, we invite you to download our complimentary guide which contains helpful information for families considering senior living, Just the Facts: Your Guide to Assisted Living.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a personal tour, please contact one of our advisors at a community near you.