Eating and drinking for persons living with dementia

As dementia progresses, eating and drinking for a person living with dementia can still be a source of joy, or a health issue, or more likely, both. 

Every person’s eating and drinking history and preferences are different. This is certainly true of those living with dementia. In addition, you may find that your loved one’s attitude towards eating has changed. Often people living with dementia may find that their tastes have changed because their taste buds’ ability to discern flavors may be diminished. This can cause them to prefer highly flavored foods over bland or very sweet desserts with a lot of sugar. Their preferences may change over time and it is wise to make sure you are aware of what they are feeling. 

As a caregiver, you need to respect their preferences, while helping them maintain good nutrition and proper hydration throughout the day, a balanced diet, and joy. A change in eating habits can reflect a health issue—depression, pain, a medication reaction, or an unmet physical need like constipation or lack of exercise. Offer them chances to drink throughout the day. Your loved one may have difficulty communicating the reasons s/he does not feel like eating or drinking, but through observation you may be able to understand it. 

If you know your loved one’s history with food, you may be able to tempt them to eat with familiar comfort food from their past, with familiar enticing food smells like apple pie or freshly baked bread that can remind them of past pleasures. Sometimes small portions can be more appealing than a plate piled high. If harder food is a challenge, try soft food, blender smoothies, or nutritious juices.

It may help to change the timing of a meal—no one wants to eat when it does not feel like mealtime. Remember that some people living with dementia may not recognize the food when it is in front of them—it may be helpful to explain to them what they are eating.

Of course, your primary care physician may be able to help you figure out how to get your loved one back to enjoying food again.