Whether you are preparing food in your home or taking your loved one on a meal outing, there are simple ways to create a rewarding experience with the right preparation. First, remember how important regular meals are to an elderly person dealing with dementia – not only for basic nutrition and health, but also as part of a predictable and nurturing routine and a stabilizing anchor to the day. Mealtimes are also a great opportunity to stimulate memory through conversation, and reminiscing, as well as for maintaining basic motor function.
Too often, mealtimes can feel like a frustrating task to “get through” – often because AD or dementia suffers can have difficulty swallowing, recognizing foods, using basic utensils, or even staying calm when getting frustrated at sensory impairment. Here are ways to address and overcome those challenges.
If you’re home:
- Remember that you can be dealing with the limitations outlined above, as well as decreased appetite, loss of smell or taste, and/or difficulty chewing; so it’s best to offer foods rich in flavor and aroma that are easy to chew and swallow. A simple chicken stew for example, or scrambled eggs with portioned whole grain toast, can serve as easy and nutritious meals.
- Keep the atmosphere calm and comfortable. Minimize distractions like TV or unnecessary items on the table; keep noise levels down; and provide comfortable seating that’s near a bathroom. Be patient, and try not to rush through the meal. Maintain a soft and happy tone, whether talking about their day, or offering encouraging prompts like “You make the best spaghetti sauce, Mom!”
If you’re eating out:
- Go to a familiar place if at all possible, or establish a “go-to” location with a kind and understanding staff who can get to know you and your needs. It may take you a few visits to smooth out the kinks – that’s OK, and to be expected!
- Ask for a comfortable seat near a bathroom. Bring a change of clothes if at all possible, just in case.
- Don’t be afraid to order for your loved one. If the service is slow, don’t sit in silence – talk about the menu and get Dad talking – about the menu, or about favorite meal memories. And if he’s used to a ritual like saying a prayer before a meal, go ahead and say it with him – keep things familiar and reassuring.
It’s worth putting in a little extra effort to share these times together! You will feel such a sense of fulfillment – and, more importantly, your loved one’s attitude and behavior can benefit hugely from a successful meal experience. Be patient about it, and take things one meal at a time! And be sure to check out these great websites for more mealtime tips: