Meal times, and day-to-day eating and drinking can become very challenging as dementia progresses.
In the early stages, a person with dementia who lives alone may begin to experience difficulty with preparing food, acquiring food, or remembering to eat. Meal delivery services like Meals on Wheels may not be helpful as they may not remember to eat the meals that have been delivered. These are all signs that the person with dementia needs help.
People in the later stages of dementia may no longer recognize food. They may struggle with a knife and fork. Food may become difficult to chew or swallow, and they may need to be reminded to open their mouths to consume it. They may be also be unwilling to accept assistance with eating.
When supporting a person with dementia at meal time, it is important to remember that these behaviours and reactions are not personal attacks. These difficulties are related to changes caused by the progression of dementia. When there is an issue with the meal, it can be difficult for others to identify what the problem is, particularly if the person with dementia can’t find the words to explain.
Tips for supporting your loved one with dementia at meal time:
- Meal time should be calm and unrushed, with more than enough time to eat. Ensure that the environment is low stress, with no distractions or excess noise.
- If the person with dementia is distressed or agitated, don’t press them to eat or drink. Wait until their anxiety levels return to normal.
- Talk about the food being served to remind them of tastes and flavours.
- The person’s food preferences and eating style may have changed, and may continue to change over time as dementia progresses. They may develop a preference for foods they’ve never enjoyed before, like spicy flavours or desserts. Be flexible and go with the flow.
- A person with dementia may develop new patterns of eating, wanting to eat at times of the day that are unusual for them. Be flexible and encourage them to eat when their appetite is good.
- Be careful when serving very hot beverages as some people with dementia may lose the ability to gauge temperatures.
- If the person appears to be having difficulty with using cutlery, you may need to prompt them by guiding their hands to remind them of the process involved.
- If cutlery has become too challenging, serving food that can be eaten without utensils (finger foods) is a solution.