Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected. Those with dementia constitute roughly 25 percent of hospital patients age 65 and older and 47 percent of nursing home residents.

Proper nutrition is important to keep the body healthy and strong. For someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, poor nutrition may increase behavioral symptoms and cause weight loss. Feeding problems may cause weight loss, dehydration, poor wound healing and pneumonia. The person with dementia may forget to eat and how to eat, and may become overwhelmed with too many choices.

The following tips may promote better food intake in the dementia patient:

  • Serve meals in a quiet area with no loud noise or distractions.
  • Serve food on solid colored plates with contrasting color placemats or table cloth.
  • Serve one or two foods at a time and identify what food you are serving.
  • Serve finger foods if the person is playing with the food or has forgotten how to use utensils.
  • Serve food in bowls or plates on a non-skid surface, if the person is throwing food or dishes. This may help to encourage independence with feeding.
  • Use cups or mugs with lids or a bendable straw.
  • The resident may need encouragement, assistance at meals and verbal cues to chew and swallow. Staff may need to put utensils in the resident’s hands.
  • Provide softer foods in bite size pieces for those with continuous chewing.
  • Offer high calorie beverages, chocolate milk, extra butter in food and seasoning to food to improve the taste and consumption.
  • Supplements may need to be added to increase calorie and protein intake.
  • The resident may benefit from being offered snacks in between meals.

Every person with dementia is different, and there is not one right way to increase intakes. It is necessary to determine self-feeding abilities, diet tolerance and ideal dining atmosphere. Our goal as healthcare professionals is to maintain nutrition and hydration status of the resident along with improving their overall quality of life.