Good nutrition is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, whether you’re in the prime of life or affected by dementia in old age. Caregivers often face a serious challenge in helping their charge enjoy a decent quality of life: the client’s reluctance to eat well, even when their favorite dish is presented to them on a plate! What’s going on, here?
Dementia Challenges. Unexpected Challenges at Mealtime
As a result of dementia, or just the wear and tear of old age – or a combination of both, caregivers often come up against resistance.
- Sudden Taste Changes. Grilled chicken on a bed of greens and tomatoes was their favorite – until it wasn’t. Now they won’t even deign to look at it – even if they specifically requested it, not an hour ago! There’s not much you can do if they refuse to eat it but pack it up and provide them with their new ‘old-time’ favorite.
- Trouble Recognizing Food as Food. Someone with advanced dementia may just not make the connection that there’s food in front of them unless it’s presented right. Use colored plates that contrast with the food. Also, consider simplifying the meal to 2 dishes at a time, to avoid confusion.
- Irritation from Eating. Dentures fitting poorly, tooth pain or a sore jaw can make the simple act of eating an uncomfortable ordeal. There’s no getting around pre-emptive action. Make sure their dental health is clear and if necessary, get them out to the dentist.
- Unending Complaints. Caregivers can often get discouraged by patients who complain that their food just doesn’t taste right – even if they’re serving up delicious fare that others give 5-star ratings. It could be that the patient isn’t just being mean: the truth is that sense of taste and smell can decline, particularly in cases of dementia. That food you’re serving doesn’t taste as good as it once did – and sadly, all you can do is experiment by adding a little extra spice or sauce. Suddenly, they’re loving your over-seasoned chicken that your own family would reject. You’re not cooking for the Iron Chef – just do what works..
More Tips to Help Caregivers Feed their Patients Right
Mostly, this is about being flexible and adaptable. Your patient may have cultural preferences; rice, instead of bread. Spicy soup for breakfast. Meatloaf, prepared according to an old family recipe. Caregivers are welcome to try introducing new foods, but first plan out according to their preferences. Meal planning is critical for ensuring you provide a balanced diet and don’t wear yourself out trying to improvise whatever dish is requested that day.
Family members may have helpful suggestions about what the client might enjoy, or recommend certain nutrition supplements. Again, be accommodating – but not at the risk of your patient’s health or comfort. If they really do hate the taste of prunes for dessert, there are always plenty of alternatives.
Finally, be there for them when they’re eating! Mealtimes are social times – and this is where fond memories can be sharpened by the tastes and smells of the kitchen.
Eating well is a major part of our quality of life. Succeed on this front and you’ll be one appreciated caregiver!