Nutrition Care for Alzheimer’s Seniors – Creativity and Patience Needed

We are told frequently that managing our health, preventing chronic disease and reducing our potential risk factors can help us age more successfully.

Nutrition is one area where lifestyle changes can and have been proven to benefit us, especially combating chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Improved nutrition in those already afflicted with chronic diseases is a key factor in how well or poorly these diseases progress. Now we are learning that Alzheimer’s is included, as we recently read in the latest study published in The Journal of Advanced Nursing.

This study examined the effects of poor nutrition on depression symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers used a mini-nutritional assessment tool and body mass index (BMI) to determine the level of nutrition for each participant. They also used a depression scale in dementia to measure the symptoms of depression present. Through their study they determined that an improvement in nutritional status correlated with a reduction in symptoms of depression.

Improving Nutrition in Seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. Meet your senior where they are – do they prefer to eat small meals or nutritious snacks frequently instead of three bigger meals; do they want to only eat dessert; do they only want to use their hands? Find strategies to work with them instead of against them so that meal times don’t become war zones where your senior doesn’t get all the nutrition they need.
  2. Try contrast – use colored plates that are different than the food, put a colored placemat under their plate, use a different colored cup, and remove a brightly colored tablecloth that draws your senior’s attention. Also try to keep the food on the plate interesting with varied colors, textures and shapes.
  3. Limit distractions – turn off the TV, play soft music, sit down with them instead of hovering over them, try facing the chair with a view of the wall instead of out the window, and limit visitors during meal times.
  4. Don’t stress over dislikes – often your senior will refuse foods they used to love and eat bowls full of food they used to hate. Many will prefer the dessert or sweet foods to the healthier choices. Keep offering a variety of nutritious foods and roll with their choices as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to offer them chicken a la king they used to hate because it may be their new favorite. Experiment with new flavors to perk up your senior’s appetite.
  5. Serve foods they can chew and swallow easily – often our seniors begin to lose weight because they are eating less and moving more. This results in loose dentures or poor dentition. In turn, it becomes more difficult to eat when they can’t chew as well. Try using softer foods, like boiled meats, powered up soups, mashed vegetables and potatoes, fruit compote, yogurt, and casseroles.
  6. Finger foods to the rescue – You might also try giving more foods that your senior can pick up with their hands, finger foods, instead of foods that require utensils. They can grab and go when they aren’t interested in sitting or can’t remember what to do with a utensil.
  7. Adaptive devices for feeding – help with self-feeding using specialized devices such as a cup with two handles, a spoon that has a larger grip handle, a plate that allows scooping food against the side and other items can help your senior do it herself with less frustration.
  8. Don’t forget medications – talk to your senior’s doctor about any new medications or effects their current medication can have on their appetite. Sometimes a small change in dose or timing of medications can lead to a better appetite.
  9. Drink plenty of fluids – encourage adequate liquids in any form that works to help maintain cognition, limit confusion and keep your senior’s appetite healthy. Foods like watermelon, jello, Popsicles and grapes are healthy, easy to hold and good sources of fluids.
  10. Try a supplement – if all else fails, try one of the nutritional supplements available as a meal enhancement. Try to avoid replacing a nutritious meal with these. Make your own milkshakes or smoothies too for healthy between meal snacks.

Being a bit creative and patient with a senior with Alzheimer’s disease can help improve their overall nutrition. Hopefully, by improving overall physical wellness, your senior can gain other benefits in addition to reduced episodes of depression, improved physical function and better cognition. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but overall health and well-being can help your senior feel better and you for helping them too.

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