On average, Americans spend more than an hour each day eating. And while mealtimes are necessary for getting the nutrients we need, they’re also important social and cultural occasions.
For people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, mealtimes can be difficult due to physical and mental changes. But it’s vital to make sure they continue to get the nutrition they need from a proper diet as well as the benefits of a routine and socialization.
Learn more about some of the challenges people with dementia face when eating and get tips to help make these times go smoothly for your loved one.
Planning an Effective Mealtime Routine for People with Dementia
People with dementia often benefit from a structured routine so they know what to expect. This is especially true for mealtimes. You can help your loved one by keeping the place they eat, the table settings, and the people at the table as consistent as possible from day to day.
- Create a calm, relaxed atmosphere so your loved one can focus on eating instead of distractions.
- Turn off loud noises like the TV or vacuum cleaner.
- Play soft background music to promote a sense of peace.
Although people with dementia may not remember everything about their eating routine from day to day, there may be one thing in the routine that feels familiar and safe to them – so strive for consistency as much as possible.
How to Set the Table for People with Dementia
Because routine is important, as mentioned above, try to keep the table settings they use consistent from day to day. Keeping things simple is also key. If your loved one only wants to use a spoon, remove all the other utensils so they can focus on just one thing at a time.
It might also help to remove things like salt and pepper shakers, which people with dementia may try to add to everything, and centerpieces, which could be distracting or mistaken for food.
Next, think about the use of color on the table. Visual impairments that come with dementia and aging can make it hard to distinguish objects of the same color. Try placing a dark placemat beneath their spot at the table to help it stand out. Use plain, non-patterned plates, placemats, napkins, and tablecloths to help reduce confusion.
The importance of color carries over to the food itself. A plate full of beige food will be hard for your loved one to distinguish, and they may lose interest. Instead, serve meals with a few colorful options that will stand out on the plate.
Mealtime Tips for People with Dementia
From slowing down the pace to presenting fewer options to offering food that’s easier to eat, there are many other ways you can help make mealtime easier for your loved one with dementia. Learn about a few of them below.
- Be flexible. If your loved one is more interested in eating breakfast at noon or wants oatmeal for dinner, don’t worry. The important thing is that they’re eating – and who doesn’t like to switch things up sometimes?
- Slow down. Give your loved one the time they need to eat. Pushing them to hurry or eat all of something quickly can cause feelings of anxiety, so let your loved one know they don’t need to rush.
- Check the food temperature. People with dementia might not be able to tell when food is too hot or cold, so check it for them. Don’t offer boiling-hot soup or frozen fruit; give it a chance to come to room temperature first.
- Offer smaller bites. People with dementia may eventually have trouble chewing and swallowing, so provide soft foods, cut them into bite-size pieces, or offer finger foods. Smaller portions and adding only one or two items at a time can also help reduce confusion. Don’t serve food that requires a lot of chewing, like raw carrots.
Above all, remember: A person with dementia is still a person who needs and deserves respect and compassion. Allow your loved one the space they need to be as independent as possible.
Memory Care Dining at Residences Senior Living
At Residences Senior Living’s memory care neighborhoods, we recognize how important mealtimes are for people with dementia. Our residents dictate when they want to eat and, often, what they want to eat – sometimes ordering off a menu for themselves.
In all aspects of our memory care communities, we provide residents with the help they need to live full, fulfilling lives.
“We honor every part of their dementia process. Just because someone has dementia doesn’t mean their quality of life needs to be diminished,” says Melissa Huffman, Regional Director of Sales and Marketing at Residences Senior Living.
Contact us today to request more information or schedule your personal tour of our memory care neighborhoods – and see the Residences Senior Living difference.