Why Won't My Loved One with Alzheimer's Disease Eat Their Food?
I was inspired to write this article based on various community members' comments and questions on this topic. Unfortunately, I, too, experienced issues regarding food intake and eating with both of my parents, who had Alzheimer's.
It is never easy to stand by and watch our loved ones not eating like they used to. Worse yet, sometimes not eat at all.
Decreased ability to smell and taste
Alzheimer's disease is a disease that affects our brains. Our brains are a mighty powerhouse that helps control a lot of the functioning of our body, including our ability to taste and smell.
As the disease progressed, my parents experienced a noticeably decreased ability to taste, smell, and experience the food they were eating. I tried to put myself in their shoes. The only thing I could relate it to is when I had a nasty cold and lost my ability to taste and smell. I know that food was much less appealing to me without being able to smell and taste it.
As the disease progressed in my parents, it affected both of my parents' brains, ability to process the visual input from within their environment. My parents had difficulty differentiating the food from the plate it was placed on.
I had to make a conscious effort to put their food on a high-contrast colored plate. Red is a great color plate to help differentiate the plate from the food on the plate. Using a matching red cup, a lid for their drinks and large, handled utensils was also helpful. There are many plates on the market that are high contrast, help divide the food, and make it easier to scoop it out. Scoop divider plates and bowls helped my parents become as independent as possible.
When setting the table, placing the red dinnerware on a white tablecloth can help our loved one's brain to process the food we put in front of them. Ultimately, all of these adaptations helped my parents, and it led to increased food intake.
My parents, like many with Alzheimer's and dementia, really did not do well in noisy and overstimulating environments. I noticed it more and more with them as the disease progressed.
I had to really structure their dining environment to be as calm and as distraction-free as possible. The added noises from multiple televisions, radios, or a crowd of others (in a restaurant or a family gathering) can make for a distressing and confusing mealtime environment.
Providing a calm mealtime environment made a more enjoyable food experience and increased food and drink intake.
As my parents' disease progressed, we ditched the utensils and opted for finger foods and their favorite foods. Sometimes using utensils can become burdensome and overwhelming. Allowing my parents to enjoy finger foods eliminated unnecessary stress or confusion. Ultimately leading to an increase in their overall food intake.
Decreased ability to chew and swallow
There came a point in my parent's disease where their ability to chew and swallow needed to be medically assessed. This often becomes more common in the later stages of the disease but should be monitored at any stage.
When this occurred with my parents, I made sure that they were given foods they enjoyed that were cut into small pieces, were softer, or were of a consistency they could more easily swallow.
Eating is personal: the ability to eat
Eating is such a personal and necessary process to help sustain life. Watching the decline in my parents' eating ability was devastating. Alzheimer's disease attacks the brain and ultimately leads to a decreased and an inability to function. It is so important to recognize how the disease affects our loved one's ability to process their mealtime experience.
I know I would get so frustrated and say, "Why won't they just eat?" However, I learned that it is important and okay to recognize and meet our loved ones where they are. In doing that, though, I had to let go of my own and sometimes societal expectations. Which quite honestly was not easy to do.
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