Feeding Tips: Maintaining Good Nutrition for People with Alzheimer's
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019 | Last updated: March 2023
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, it often gets more difficult to do many basic things like walking, talking, and eating.
Many people also find they’re not interested in food as much as they used to be, and aren’t as hungry. A person with Alzheimer’s disease might also experience problems with swallowing, which can affect feeding. As orientation to time gets worse, the person might not realize it is mealtime or remember to eat – which is why good nutrition is so important and a responsible caregiver is crucial.
Making mealtimes easier for people with Alzheimer's
While eating and drinking may not be as easy as they were before, there are things a person with Alzheimer’s disease can do to help make mealtimes and feeding easier. Find what works at different times, and make adaptations as necessary.
Here are some things to try:1,2,3
- Alternate between food and fluids to help remind the person to drink enough, but make sure they swallow fully before continuing to the next bite or swallow
- Make foods easy to chew and swallow: grind foods, cut them into small bites, or puree them; for liquids, use thickening agents or purchase thickened liquids to aid in swallowing
- Sit properly: to reduce the risk of choking, sit up straight and avoid foods that are difficult to thoroughly chew properly, like raw vegetables
- If utensils are tricky to use, eat finger foods like chicken nuggets, broccoli, bite-size sandwich pieces, and so forth
- Make sure dentures are properly fitted; loose dentures or ill-fitting or cracked dentures can cause pain and discomfort with eating, or even choking
- Don’t use a straw, as this can actually make swallowing more difficult; take sips from a cup instead
- Keep the neck forward and head down; this might make it easier to swallow
- Cold drinks may be easier to swallow than warm drinks
- Take time with chewing and swallowing; a person might need extra time as the Alzheimer’s disease progresses, and that’s okay
- Choose soft foods like applesauce, milkshakes, yogurt, soup, or custard
- After the person is done eating, they should stay upright for a half hour
- If the person takes any pills or supplements, ask the doctor if they can be crushed and added to food, to make them easier to take
Nutrition tips for people with Alzheimer's
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the person’s activity level will decrease, and they will not need as many calories.
If a person with Alzheimer’s disease starts losing weight, tell their doctor. This may need to be addressed with supplements to increase calories and vitamins, or other measures, if need be. Do not take vitamin or nutrition supplements without the approval or instruction of the doctor.
If someone is a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s disease and the person is unable to properly feed themselves, the caregiver might want to talk to their doctor about hand-feeding them. This is not to force food into them as their appetite naturally decreases, but instead, to build a better connection with them that is so often lost as the disease progresses.4
It helps them maintain dignity, as they only eat as much as they want, and stop when they are done. The patient is in charge of when they eat and how much, and they get close contact with another person.