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Health & Wellness

Nutrition and Mealtime for People With Alzheimer's

Good nutrition is very important in maintaining your loved one’s health and quality of life. Ensuring a well-balanced diet is likely to become more of a challenge as the disease progresses. In the early stages of the disease, memory loss may contribute to forgetting to eat and forgettnig how to prepare meals. Difficulties with chewing and swallowing may need to be addressed in later stages. Following these tips will help your loved one to get good nutrition and make mealtime easier.

Mealtime environment and routine

  • Set a routine by serving meals at regular times.
  • Reduce distractions at mealtime. Turn the television or radio off. Clear items from the table, such as salt and pepper shakers.
  • Use solid-colored tablecloths, plates and placemats to reduce distraction.
  • Make sure the eating area is well lit.
  • If you’re eating out, choose familiar, quiet, well-lit restaurants with fast service. Plan to eat during non-rush hours.

Meal selection and preparation

  • Prepare for meals ahead of time, if possible. If your loved one has difficulty handling utensils, have the food already cut into bite-size pieces when you have him sit down to eat. You may need to put only one food at a time on your loved one’s plate.
  • Encourage as much self-feeding as possible. If your loved one has difficulty with forks and spoons, try finger foods. Examples of foods that are easy to pick up include small sandwiches, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cheese.
  • Avoid foods that may cause choking, including tough meats, hard pretzels, hard candy, raw carrots, popcorn, nuts, seeds and hot dogs.
  • Serve your loved one’s favorite foods, prepared in a familiar way. Avoid serving new foods or foods that your loved one never enjoyed.
  • Only fill glasses halfway or use cups with non-spill lids if necessary.
  • Put bowls and plates on a nonskid surface such as a placemat.
  • You may want to use plastic cups and dishes to prevent breakage. Plastic tablecloths and placements may help make cleanup easier.
  • Try colorful, flavorful foods to enhance your loved one’s appetite.
  • Test the food temperature before serving, because your loved one may not be able to tell you if food is too hot or too cold.
  • You may want to consider mincing or pureeing food in a blender to minimize problems with chewing.
  • If you believe your loved one is not getting enough nutrients from regular food, but is still able to swallow, you may want to consider a food supplement such as a protein shake.

During the meal

  • If necessary, give your loved one clear, simple directions at mealtime. Visual cues may be helpful. For example, you can show your loved one how to lift a spoon to his mouth.
  • Be patient and offer praise and encouragement.
  • Allow for plenty of time to eat.
  • Check that your loved one is chewing food well. If chewing becomes too difficult, you may want to puree foods and consider food supplements such as nutritional shakes.
  • If you believe your loved one is having pain when chewing, take him to the dentist.