Every year, nearly 10 million new cases of dementia are diagnosed globally.
Many people think that dementia is simply part of the aging process, but in fact, it is a condition that develops as the result of a disease or health-related event, such as Alzheimer’s or stroke.
There is currently no cure for dementia, and it’s often difficult to diagnose, as well. If you are caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you’re probably spinning a lot of plates in the air simultaneously as you try to tackle all aspects of care. One such aspect is difficulty eating.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the reasons dementia patients lose their appetite or have difficulty feeding themselves. We will also offer some solutions for when dementia patients stop eating.
Common Reasons That Dementia Patients Stop Eating
Dementia patients who have trouble eating and drinking are at risk for weight loss, dehydration, and even malnutrition. That’s why it’s important to get on top of this problem as soon as possible.
Pain In Neck, Throat or Mouth
Poorly fitting dentures, or natural teeth that haven’t been taken care of, can lead to discomfort and pain in the mouth. Additionally, dementia can affect the areas of the brain that control muscles involved in chewing and swallowing. This can lead to difficulty and discomfort at mealtimes.
Some of the medications prescribed for Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients can cause a loss of appetite. Nausea and stomach pain are two other conditions that may result from medication and cause your loved one to eschew food.
Anytime your loved one’s doctor prescribes a new medication or changes the dose of a medication that is already prescribed, make sure you understand the side effects. Talk to the doctor if you think a medication is having an adverse effect on your loved one’s ability to eat.
Inability to Communicate
Particularly in later stages of dementia, patients may not be able to effectively communicate their opinions and preferences when it comes to food and drink. Or they may struggle to explain why eating is posing so many problems.
Depression is commonly diagnosed in patients who have dementia. They may feel isolated. They struggle to communicate the way they once did. And they are often fearful and confused about their condition. One of the common side effects of depression is loss of appetite.
Of course, there could be a combination of several of these factors at play when dementia patients stop eating or drinking.
What To Do When Dementia Patients Stop Eating
Once you have a notion of what’s behind your loved one’s declining appetite, you can better research solutions. The following tips won’t work in every case, and it’s important to remember that there’s no silver bullet. An approach that works today might not be as successful tomorrow, or vice versa.
Offer Them Choices
Just as you might have done with your young children, offer your elderly relatives a choice of several foods. Draw up a simple daily menu, with options for each meal, and ask the patient to circle or check off the foods they want.
Small, Frequent Meals Are Best
Encourage the patient to graze or snack throughout the day, rather than giving them three big meals. A plate full of food may feel daunting, and the pressure to clean that plate won’t be good for them, either.
Keep healthy snacks handy and draw your loved one’s attention to them frequently. These could include mixed nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruit, crackers, yogurt, and cheese.
Tempt Them With Favorite Foods
If you’re able, cook or purchase foods that your relative has always loved. Similarly, old-fashioned dishes that they might have eaten as a child can trigger happy memories, and stimulate the appetite.
Don’t deny your loved one any food that they may request. In many cases, nutrition takes a back seat to filling, calorie-rich foods. That’s not to say that your relative can subsist on junk food and candy. If their diet is fairly healthy overall, green-light any indulgences.
Soft Foods Are Helpful
Pain, difficulty chewing, and difficulty swallowing may mean that many favorite dishes are now off-limits. In these cases, you’ll want to turn to soft, easy to eat options.
Mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, applesauce, yogurt, pudding, soup, scrambled eggs, tuna salad, rice, or soft noodles are all good foods to try.
Let Them Drink Their Meal
Smoothies are a fantastic way to deliver both calories and nutrients to a dementia patient. In addition to fruit, add vegetables like carrots, raw kale, or baby spinach.
Other ingredients to consider are avocados, peanut or almond butter, yogurt, flax seed, soy milk or almond milk, and wheatgrass powder.
Add a few drops of liquid stevia if sweetening is needed, or a teaspoon of vanilla to improve the smoothie’s overall taste.
Similarly, keeping a supply of nutrition drinks on hand is a smart idea. These, or even old-fashioned milkshakes, may go down easily when nothing else will.
When dementia patients stop eating, it can be frightening and frustrating for their caregivers and family members. It is important to understand the underlying reasons for poor appetite, difficulty eating, or refusal to eat.
Once the causes of your loved one’s difficulty eating have been established, there are steps that you can take to help them enjoy eating once again — and in turn, to eat more.
Here at Seasons Memory Care, we offer a state-of-the-art, customized approach to senior living. Contact us to learn more.