Promoting Independence at Mealtimes for People Living with Dementia

Vicky Pitner   -  

Sometimes, people just lose interest in food. Certain medications can also affect appetite. To encourage healthy eating and maintaining independence with someone living with dementia, the following tips may make mealtime more pleasant and enjoyable.

  • Use red plates. Research has shown an increase in food consumption using red plates rather than white, as it is difficult to see foods on a white background.
  • Use smaller plates. Often, someone living with dementia may refuse to eat because the portions look too large.
  • Utensils may become more difficult to manage or confusing which one to use. Provide only one utensil. If that becomes too difficult, prepare meals that can be eaten without utensils.
  • Provide finger foods, especially for snacks. Berries, grapes, nuts, fresh vegetables, quartered sandwiches, and chicken fingers are all great options so they can focus on the enjoyment of the food.
  • If your family member “gets stuck” and stops eating, do not assume they are finished. Sit with your family member with little conversation and use gentle physical prompts to restart the eating, such as handing the spoon to them or tap the plate.
  • Music can be soothing while eating. Avoid music they may try to sing with, as this can be a choking hazard. Soft jazz has been shown to aid in digestion.
  • Add spices that can enhance the flavors. Use ones they enjoy to increase the smells and taste. Cinnamon can really add flavor to boring veggies! The goal is to eat as nutritiously as possible, but preparing food differently may improve their appetite.
  • Cut up the food into smaller bites. Cut the food before placing it on the table in front of them. This shows respect and maintains their dignity.
  • Avoid coaxing or “reminding” them they have always “liked this food.” Dementia may affect the ability to smell or cause changes in tastes or textures
  • Avoid correcting them if they say they have already eaten. Apologize for offering them more food and put it away. Bring the plate back to the table in a matter of minutes and try again. ,

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