Nutrition Strategies for Caregivers

By Ellie Wilson, MS, RD, senior nutritionist, Price Chopper

March 25, 2016

Caring for family members and individuals with Alzheimer’s is an enormous challenge. Eating can become a stressor for both the patient and the caregiver. As poor nutrition can undermine an already hard situation, the strategies outlined here may offer some relief. Hydration also must be monitored.

If eating is difficult, consider these possibilities, offered by the Alzheimer’s Association. Understanding the barriers can help the caregiver find the most effective routes to better eating experiences.

  • Physical difficulties: Check for mouth sores, poorly fitting dentures, gum disease or dry mouth.
  • Disease: Other chronic illnesses like diabetes can lead to appetite loss. Constipation and depression can also be candidates and may be partially due to medications and hydration.
  • Agitation and distraction: If the person is agitated, it is unlikely he or she will eat. Try to reduce distraction in the eating area, including odors and harsh noises.

Some combination of the following positive strategies should set the stage for best nutrition results.

  • Make mealtime comfortable – the area should be quiet, away from television or conversation.
  • Keep table setting simple – avoid patterned plates, as it can be hard for those with cognitive problems to find the food on a busy-pattern plate.
  • Use white plates with contrasting, plain, non-skid placemats to help the person locate a plate and keep it in place when he or she is trying to eat.
  • Serve one food at a time – mashed potatoes, then chicken fingers. Encourage sips of water, milk or juice between bites.
  • Rethink the meal itself – finger foods and soft sandwiches are much easier for dementia patients.
  • Show the person how to eat by demonstrating “watch me,” then use the fork or spoon.
  • Soft foods like applesauce, cottage cheese and scrambled eggs are usually easy to manage. Moist foods also contribute to hydration, which may decrease constipation.
  • Avoid nuts, popcorn and raw carrots, as they may be hard to chew. Learn the Heimlich maneuver.
  • Take your time – people can take an hour to eat a meal.

For a list of additional strategies, go to the Alzheimer's Association website and click the link for Food, Eating and Alzheimer's. Work with registered dietitians and local Alzheimer organizations to learn coping strategies and find assistance and answers to questions. These folks understand your issues and are there to support you.

This article appeared originally in the Albany Times Union on March 9, as part of the Capital Region LiveSmart project and is reprinted here, with attribution, by permission of the LiveSmart project director. 

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