People with dementia may have difficulty maintaining a healthy appetite, as their ability to perceive and enjoy food can be impacted by the condition. However, good nutrition is essential for maintaining overall health and well-being, and it's important to try to find ways to encourage appetite in people with dementia.
Here are some tips for encouraging appetite in people living with dementia:
- Make meals appealing and enjoyable: People with dementia may be more likely to eat if they are enjoying the food and the experience of eating. Try to make meals visually appealing by presenting food in an attractive way and consider serving favorite foods or foods that have a strong smell or taste.
- Offer a variety of foods: People with dementia may lose interest in food if they are served the same things over and over again. Try to offer a variety of foods to keep things interesting, and consider incorporating new flavors and textures.
- Offer choices: Provide your partner with the opportunity to have a say in what they eat. Try giving them two choices. For example, "What would you like for dinner? Spaghetti or beef stew?" You should also consider allowing them to choose where they want to eat. Maybe it's at the dining room table, maybe it's on the couch or in a recliner, but it could also be in bed.
- Offer smaller proportions: A large plate of food can feel overwhelming to tackle if a person is not feeling hungry. Try offering a small portions of food throughout the day instead or just a little bit of food at the time, giving them the opportunity to request more food if they are still hungry. .
- Encourage independence: People with dementia may be more likely to eat if they feel like they are participating in the act of self-feeding. Encourage independence by offering self-feeding options, such as finger foods or adapted utensils or cups that are easy to use. If necessary, modify the environment by providing dishes that contrast with both the table and food, remove any unnecessary items from the table, and minimize noise. If you partner needs more assist, try using the hand-over-hand or hand-under-hand method before performing the task completely for them.
- Eat together: Your partner may need help initiating and performing the task of eating. Try providing them with a visual cue and demonstration on how to eat by eating the same foods, together. Demonstrate first with no words and then, if necessary provide simple instructions or feedback.
- Consider the environment: The environment in which meals are served can impact appetite. Make sure the dining area is well-lit, comfortable, and free from distractions. You can also play soft instrumental music in the background (if it is not too distracting); however it is recommended to choose music that suits your partner's preference. Lyrics should be avoided.
- Pay attention to physical factors: Physical factors such as mouth dryness, difficulty swallowing, tongue or gum sores, or dental problems (pain, poor fitting dentures) can all affect appetite. Make sure that any physical issues are addressed by consulting a Speech Language Pathologist and/or Dentist.
It's important to remember that every person with dementia is unique and may have their own preferences and needs when it comes to food and eating. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for your partner, but with patience and persistence, it is often possible to encourage appetite and maintain good nutrition in people living with dementia.