If you have a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, making sure that they get enough to eat may be a great source of frustration for you and for any other caregivers they may have. There are many reasons why Alzheimer's patients may have trouble with eating. Sometimes they simply forget, or think that they've already eaten recently. They may also lose some of their sense of taste and smell, which makes food far less appealing. Certain medications can also affect the appetite. Unfortunately, this can all lead to unhealthy weight loss. Take a look at some tips that can help you help your loved one get enough to eat.
As often as you can, sit down for a meal with your loved one. If they are living in a nursing home like Alta Ridge Communities, try to plan your visits around meal time, and bring your own lunch or order an extra one from the facility. When your loved one sees you setting up lunch and sitting down to eat, they're more likely to get the idea that they are supposed to sit and eat too.
If your loved one in a nursing home typically eats in their room, try to convince them to eat in a common dining area instead, and ask the nurses and aides to help make sure that your loved one goes to the dining room when you're not there. They may prefer to eat with you, but sitting in a room where everyone is eating can still help them remember that they are supposed to be eating too.
Plates and Place Settings Matter
You may have heard or read that serving food on red plates can help Alzheimer's patients eat more. That's true – or it can be true – but it's not the whole story. Colored plates, not just red plates, can help you draw a contrast between the food and the plate, which can help your loved one see the food so that they can eat it. For example, if the Alzheimer's patient has poor vision, as many do, mashed potatoes might just blend in with a white plate. However, they'll stand out on a red plate, which can help the patient see the mashed potatoes. On the other hand, something like strawberries or beets might blend in on a red plate, so when serving those foods, you'd be better off with a white plate. There is also some evidence that people actually eat less from red plates, because they associate red with the concept of stopping – think red traffic lights and stop signs. This means that you may have more success using other colors to create contrast, like blue or green.
There are other factors that matter as well. Try serving your loved one food on oversized plates. Dieters know that oversized plates tend to lead to overeating, because the large plates make servings appear smaller. While that's not good for someone who is trying to lose weight, it is good news for an Alzheimer's patient who needs to eat more. Placing the plates on tablecloths or placemats that match the color of the plate can also help – the plate then appears larger because it blends in with the table.
For some Alzheimer's patients, getting them to sit down and eat a healthy meal several times a day is simply too ambitious. Many Alzheimer's patients are restless and tend to get up and wander around, especially at night. Others get distracted easily. And many simply don't feel hungry and can't understand why you're insisting that they eat anyway. All of that can make it difficult to get through a whole meal.
So think smaller. A few pieces of fruit or half of a grilled cheese sandwich may not seem like enough food to you, but it's certainly better than no food. If a few bites is all that they'll take at the moment, put the food away and try again in a little while. Even if they never sit down for a full meal, getting small amounts of food throughout the day is better than nothing. If your loved one is restless and likes to wander, try finger foods – sandwiches, chicken nuggets, bananas – anything they can carry and eat. Offer drinks in a cup with a lid and straw, so they can carry it without spilling. Speaking of drinks, protein shakes and meal replacement drinks can help your loved one get the calories they need a bit more easily.
Never lecture or chastise your loved one for not eating properly – it's not their fault, and they may not even understand why you're upset. Just be patient, and when you find a strategy that works, stick with it. It's less important for your loved one to sit for a whole meal or eat several servings of vegetables a day than it is for them to get enough calories to prevent weight loss.