Mealtime and dementia

The effects of dementia include changes to the way foods taste and smell. A person with Alzheimer’s or other memory disorder may become unable to recognize foods or to know if he or she is hungry or full. Even the seemingly simple mechanics of fork and spoon or chewing and swallowing often become too complicated.

Make the environment supportive. Confusion dulls the appetite, so aim to keep things streamlined and unhurried.

  • Eat with your relative. This sets an example that it is time to eat.
  • Simplify the setting. A cluttered table can be confusing. Your relative may not be able to distinguish between a food and a decoration.
  • Reduce unnecessary noise. Turn off the TV/radio. Put the kibosh on emotional or loud conversations.
  • Use contrasting colors. Changes in visual-spatial perception are common with dementia. Avoid mashed potatoes on a white plate on a white tablecloth!

Keep the menu simple.

  • Plan for small, frequent meals. It’s difficult for people with dementia to sit for long.
  • Serve just one food at a time. Pick the most nutritious course and put it on a small plate. If your loved one leaves the table, at least he or she has eaten the most important part of the meal.
  • Check the temperature of the food before serving. Your loved one may no longer know what’s too hot.
  • Stay flexible. What your relative ate eagerly yesterday may not appeal today. Don’t take it personally! Sensitivity to smells and textures can make for picky eating. Offer an alternative. Or wait a half-hour and try again.
  • Support self-feeding. Cut foods to bite size before serving. Provide finger food when possible. (Remember to wash your relative’s hands carefully before and after!)

If your family member seems consistently disinterested in eating, consult with the doctor. Some medications affect appetite. And dental issues can make chewing painful.