How to Help People Living with Dementia Maintain Proper Nutrition

caregiver helping elderly woman at mealtime


March is National Nutrition Month, which helps focus attention on the need for nutrition in maintaining a healthy life. For those living with dementia, maintaining proper nutrition can be a challenge for a number of reasons. They may no longer recognize the food on their plate, they may have a decreased sense of taste and smell, or they may think they just ate. According to a report from Alzheimer’s Disease International, up to 45 percent of those living with dementia experience clinically significant weight loss over a year’s time and up to half living in care homes do not receive an adequate intake of food.

Here are some ways you can help someone living with dementia get the nutrition they need.

Use plates that make the food more visible

Visual and spatial impairment is frequent among people living with dementia, so it’s important to ensure they can clearly see the food on their plate. Use plates that are a color contrast to the food you’re serving. For instance, serving mashed potatoes on a white plate makes dinner difficult to see, which decreases an interest in eating. Boston University researchers discovered that Alzheimer’s patients who ate from red plates ate 25 percent more food than those eating from white plates.

Eat with them

Eating with someone with dementia can serve as a guide to appropriate behavior. By eating with them, you are demonstrating behavior you want them to mimic. Sit directly across from the person and make eye contact while eating. Start eating and allow them to follow your lead. Praise the food and let them see you enjoying it. If they start eating, praise them for doing so.

Put the focus on the food

Serve meals in quiet surroundings, away from the TV. Keep the table setting simple, free of flowers or centerpieces. Also, limit the amount of food you put on the plate. Just select one or two items at a time and if there is something that needs to be cut before eating, do this ahead of time and arrange it on the plate.

Use mealtime to reminisce

Many people living with dementia still have long-term memories and, for many, mealtimes of the past may hold special meaning. You might ask them if they remember any specific meals or what they used to cook when they had a family to care for. Reminiscing engages the mind and may stimulate the appetite. Once they start eating, allow them to eat without further dialog, to minimize distractions.

Have patience

Give your loved one or the person you’re caring for plenty of time, without chastising them for not eating. If they decide to use their fingers instead of the utensils you provided, let them. If they’re not eating what you prepared, try something else – perhaps something they see as a special treat or a favorite food.