How to feed someone with dementia
My loved one has dementia and refuses to eat. What should I do?
Feeding mum/dad with dementia is often frustrating and discouraging. They could be clenching, pushing your spoon away, spitting, and simply refusing to eat. Nothing seems to work. All those hours spent cooking his favourite dishes are wasted and you're at your wit's end.
Hang in there! Because today, we're going to give you some tried and tested tips.
Tip #1 Try sweet foods
Many things change in dementia, including food preference. This means that food which mum/dad used to love may no longer be his/her favourite. What we've found is that many people with dementia develop a liking for sweet foods. And the good news is, because mum/dad is eating so little, he's not getting enough calories. So go ahead, serve the ice cream, jellies, full-fat yoghurt, and desserts.
Watch the video below to see how a creative grandson helps his grandmother with dementia stay hydrated with yummy jelly drops.
Tip #2 Use finger foods
People with dementia may forget how to use cutlery. But they also reject it when we feed them with a spoon. Because honestly, nobody likes to be fed.
So do away with the cutlery! Place finger foods like cut up fruits, nuts, bread, small pieces of meat/fish and let them use their hands to grab. Ignore the mess.
Tip #3 Use hand-over-hand feeding
In combination with finger foods, there will be times where utensils are required. If you have to feed mum/dad, try putting your hand over his/her hand, and guiding the spoon towards their mouth. This way, they might not perceive themselves as being "force-fed". Feeding ourselves is a much more familiar sensation than being fed by someone else.
Tip #4 Let them graze
A healthy adult usually has 3 meals a day. But remember, things change as dementia progresses. The usual meal schedule no longer works and this is normal. There's no point in enforcing a 3-meal schedule and it often creates a lot of negative associations with mealtimes.
If mum/dad is able to walk or move around on a wheelchair, place small packets of food around the house for them to discover. If there is a specific place at home that he likes to hang out at, place food there.
Meals do not need to be eaten at the dining table. Use any opportunity to provide nutrition - in the void deck, in the car, at the clinic, on the couch....anywhere.
Tip #5 Colour contrast is important
People with dementia and many elderly have problems with their eyesight. This means that they find it harder to differentiate their food from their dining ware. So make sure you use bowls and plates that contrast with your food. E.g. If you're serving pale-coloured steamed fish, use a bright-coloured bowl like red and blue. If you're serving colourful fruits, by all means, use a white bowl. Try not to use dining ware with lots of patterns because this can be distracting.
Contrast is key.
Tip #6 Taste contrast is important too
Most of us grew up being told that strong-tasting foods are not good for us. And serving cold food during meals is bad. Well, things change in dementia.
A person who has dementia tends to have a weaker sense of smell and taste. Therefore, strong-tasting food is necessary to stimulate appetite. Use aromatic oils, vinegar, soy sauce, curry, chilli..to provide extra oomph. Add peanut butter, jam, honey, or chocolate sauce to their morning oats. Pack in the protein and calories with every bite.
Likewise, alternating hot and cold food also provides extra stimulation. As bizarre as it sounds, serving a bit of ice cream in between mouthfuls of hot porridge might not be a bad idea. Try our Protein Mousse Dessert for a convenient option.
We hope that these tips have been useful. If you know of someone else who would benefit from this article, please share it.
Also, take a look at our pre-packed snacks and dishes which are perfect for dementia. They come in small servings and are easy to finish.
Stay tuned for our next article in the Dementia series. Till then!
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