Eating Healthy with Alzheimer’s / Dementia
I’m often asked how to get a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or dementia to eat healthy. Dementia can affect a person’s taste buds. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had a caregiver say, “I can’t understand it, they always loved ice cream and now they suddenly hate it!”
It is very common for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia from any disease to have a complete change in taste buds.
Why Tastes Buds Change with Dementia
- Normal Aging Process – because dementia tends to affect those who are older, their taste buds may already be experiencing less intensity. As we age our taste buds often lose their abilities to taste as well as before. This is also why you will find that something you disliked as a child is suddenly delicious as an adult.
- Forgetting tastes – because dementia is a mental health issue that afflicts memory, it is thought that one of the main reasons for not enjoying certain foods is because the brain can’t recall certain flavors. What may have been a staple before dementia is now a new food.
- Relying on Heavy Flavors – often people who may have never been fond of sweets will suddenly crave sugary treats. It is not unusual for those with dementia to love sweets; this is because sweetness is a strong taste and sensory for their mouth and brain.
Tips on How to Get Dementia Patients to Eat Healthy
The first step to handling life with dementia is learning coping mechanisms. A recent study found that as a caregiver, it is very important to get some professional help and training so that you not only understand how to work with your loved one but why they may be acting the way they are acting.
At any age we have to focus on healthy eating. Those who have dementia can be problematic when it comes to eating healthy. Here are some quick tips to try.
- Keep variety to a minimum – giving a person with dementia too many choices can easily confuse them. If they become confused they will get frustrated and give up.
- Protein is important – chewing typical proteins like meat may become tedious work for someone with dementia. Instead of typical meat based proteins try things like hummus on crackers (legumes are high in protein), peanut butter sandwiches, custard (egg based), scrambled eggs, and other alternative protein sources. Protein powder can become your best friend when it comes to sneaking protein into dishes.
- Side Dishes can become a main dish – while it may have never been a favorite before the yam or sweet potato can be a great, naturally sweet taste that may appeal to your loved one. Top it with some healthy vegetables that are finely chopped (for instance broccoli or carrots) and work well hand in hand with the sweetness of the potato. The idea is to almost “hide” the healthy eating habits by focusing on the tastes your loved one seems to crave most.
- Simple & Easy – as strange as it sounds often the most simple and easy dishes can become a favorite. A friend’s grandmother requested peanut butter and jelly sandwiches regularly. At first the family was concerned; but in reality the peanut butter is a healthy protein and when they paired the sandwich with a glass of almond milk it was a fairly healthy choice.
- Eat small meals – because one of the effects of dementia is no longer being able to distinguish when they are hungry or full they may constantly tell you they’re not hungry or they just ate. This is very common. It’s a good idea to have healthy snacks readily available. (Nuts, veggies, fruits, hummus & crackers, etc.)
- Smoothies & Milkshakes – creating high protein smoothies or “milkshakes” can be a great way for those with dementia to get the nutrients they need. Use protein powders. If the chill of a shake/smoothie is unappealing to your loved one simply let it sit at room temperature.
*Note: Smoothies are a great way for YOU as a caregiver to get your nutrients in also! (Instead of milk products, which can often be harsh on the stomach of seniors, use non-dairy products such as coconut milk or almond milk). Kefir is another great way to get pro-biotics into your digestive track in order to help digestion also.
Sometimes it’s much easier to work with your loved one instead of fighting with them to get them to eat. As the dementia progresses eating may be a daily battle. A good way to help them feel hungry is to make sure they are remaining active. Hiring a professional physical therapist to get your loved one exercising properly can help get their metabolism fired up so they feel hungry or recognize that feeling of hunger.
Keep yourself nourished and many times your loved one will join in. Making it a social event can have a positive effect. When they see others eating they tend to join you. Healthy eating is something that should just become habit in your home so that your loved one will have healthy options to choose from at any time.
We want your loved one to have quality of life; but caregivers deserve the same. Never forget that as a caregiver you deserve to live a healthy lifestyle also. Let us provide professional physical therapy for your loved one who has Alzheimer’s or dementia so you can both have a healthy and happy life.
Dedicated To Your Health & Well-being (and safety),