When Food Is Truly for Thought:  Diet and Dementia

Meals are rarely at the top of a family’s checklist when considering Memory Care for a loved one.  Yet after moving in, meals become a top priority of care.  Nutrition– eating and drinking rise to the forefront of considerations for residents with dementia.  Meals matter and should be as important as the nursing care, safety, and security questions considered during tours. 

“We are trained to understand residents with dementia continuously experience changes in their brain while on their dementia journey. Relationship with each individual in Memory Care is vital. We need to know specific food and beverage likes and dislikes, how they communicate or cannot communicate hunger or thirst,” explains Kaitlynn Redmon, Executive Director of residences at Coffee Creek Senior Living.

“Consider how challenging it is to recognize the sensations of hunger and thirst when you have dementia,” adds Karen Ayresman, Executive Director of residences at Deer Creek Senior Living.  “When a resident says they have stomach pain, for example, we examine whether he or she has eaten recently. Often when we ask the question the response triggers a connection:  hunger may be the reason and having a snack may be the solution.”

 “We’ve learned that taste, smell, and texture senses change. Previous favorites may become intolerable.  The ability to cut up food, chew, or even swallow may become a barrier.  Our role in their journey is to continuously find ways to ensure nutritional needs are met while supporting the need for maintaining independence as long as possible.”

“Early stages of dementia often indicate the process of eating becomes a task requiring focus and concentration. Music, conversation, and sitting close to windows seem pleasant but for a person with dementia, these may become distractions.  Dining in a simple, streamlined atmosphere is best.  We observe and support what creates the ideal dining scenario for each individual, including prompts to use utensils or encourage taking another bite,” notes Kaitlynn.

“Our goal is always to honor and support as much independence as possible for all residents, including those needing Memory Support.  Menus for every meal change daily.  Memory Care residents can be overwhelmed by choice; their menu is limited to two options. There is also an everyday menu selection.  Our dietician guides our menus ensuring optimum nutrition needs are met. Matching physical limitations with abilities is also important.  Softer foods are easier to swallow. Finger foods are ideal for those who can no longer use utensils,”  recommend both Karen and Kaitlynn.

Eating at regular times, and offering healthy snacks, water, and beverages often throughout the day offset hunger and thirst, especially for those struggling with language. Smaller plates seem to make the smaller portions seniors prefer more fulfilling and help residents see food more easily. Heating or induction dishes help keep food warm and enhance pleasant aromas stimulating appetites and unlocking favorite memories.  These are caregiver tips used every day by the trained staff at Residences Senior Living.

“Food for thought” for families seeking the best care for loved ones with dementia!

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