305 West End Assisted Living Blog

Alzheimer’s Caregiver Toolkit: Overcoming Mealtime Challenges

Mealtimes should be enjoyable, as well as a time to connect with friends and family. For individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, eating can present a unique set of challenges. Memory loss, side effects from medications, poor coordination, and more can lead to weight loss and poor nutrition. To further complicate matters, those in the middle and later stages of Alzheimer’s are often unable to communicate effectively. As a result, caregivers may find themselves at a loss for how to deal with a loved one who refuses to eat, or seems to have to no appetite. There are simple strategies caregivers can use to overcome mealtime challenges. Read on to learn more.

Possible Causes for Loss of Appetite in Individuals with Dementia

Before we discuss tips for mealtime success, it is important to understand what is prompting the behavior. There are numerous reasons why your loved one may be refusing to eat or not feeling hungry. Knowing the cause will allow you to respond appropriately. For example, loss of appetite due to medication side effects will require a different solution than difficulty using utensils.

The Mayo Clinic shares some of the most common causes of poor appetite and nutrition on their website:

  • Forgetfulness. Memory loss may cause your loved one to forget that they need to eat and drink, how to use their utensils, or even how to eat.
  • Loss of sense of smell and taste. It isn’t uncommon for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease to experience a change in how things taste and smell. Additionally, your loved one may forget what foods taste like, leading them to unexpectedly change their preferences.
  • Anxiety and Agitation. A common problem for individuals with dementia, anxiety and agitation may make it difficult for your loved one to finish a meal, let alone enjoy it.
  • Oral Health. If your loved one suffers from poor dental hygiene, or ill-fitting dentures – eating may be challenging, as well as painful.
  • Medication side effects. Certain medicines may cause a loss of appetite.
  • Insufficient exercise. Not getting enough exercise can lower your loved one’s appetite.
  • G.I. issues. Constipation is a common complication for adults with dementia. The pain and discomfort may reduce your loved one’s appetite.
  • Lack of coordination. Changes in your loved one’s level of coordination can make it difficult for them to hold a knife and fork, or lift a cup for a drink.

Tips for Successful Mealtimes

Depending on what is causing your loved one’s poor appetite, overcoming mealtime challenges may require a trial-and-error approach. The key is to be patient and flexible until you find a combination that works best for you and your loved one. Use the following strategies from the Cleveland Clinic to get started:

  • Set the mood. Make sure mealtimes are free from distractions. Remove clutter and turn off the television and other electronic devices. Consider playing music your loved one enjoys.
  • Offer variety. While you don’t want to overwhelm your loved one with choices, providing a few different foods that look and smell good may entice their appetite.
  • Smaller meals. Instead of three larger meals that might be difficult for your loved one to sit through, try smaller portions throughout the day.
  • Easy to chew foods. If your loved one is having difficulty chewing or swallowing, opt for foods with a softer texture – scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, milkshakes, and yogurt. Cut foods with a firmer texture into bite-sized pieces.
  • Finger foods. Individuals who struggle with using utensils may do better with finger foods. From sandwiches and miniature quiche to fruit and cheeses – there are plenty of options to choose from.
  • Slow down. Give your loved one plenty of time to eat. This is especially important if agitation or anxiety is part of the problem.
  • Provide visual cues. Eliminate visual clutter by using plates, bowls, placemats, or tablecloths that are a single color, instead of patterned. To make it easier for your loved one to see their food, make sure the bowl or plate contrasts with the placemat or tablecloth. Make sure the dining area has plenty of light too.
  • Provide verbal cues. Let your loved one know what food is on their plate and where. For example – the baked chicken is at the top of your plate, and the rice is at the bottom.
  • Serve as a model. Individuals in the middle and later stages of Alzheimer’s disease may forget how to use a knife or fork, or how to eat. Demonstrating what you want your loved one to do may help.
  • Test the temperature. Some individuals with dementia may have difficulty knowing if a food or drink is too hot to consume. Avoid an accidental burn by testing the food or drink before serving.

If your loved one’s weight loss or lack of appetite persists, discuss with their doctor and dentist to rule out other possible causes.

Discover More Caregiving Resources

Be sure to explore some of our additional caregiver resources, such as natural ways to boost your energy as a caregiver. If you would like to be notified about more articles like this one, including those in our caregiver’s toolkit series, sign up for our newsletter by entering your email address in the subscription box on the right.


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