Evaluating Eating Time For Alzheimer Patient


Eating time for Alzheimer’s or dementia patients should be a very simple, step-by-step activity, one that is routine and enjoyable.  However, some problems can arise.  Many patients have difficulty eating, whether because of a sudden loss of appetite or from having difficulty evaluating food.  A patient might also forget that he or she has eaten and ask to eat again.  By evaluating eating time, and taking some important reminders into consideration, caretakers can make eating time easier and more enjoyable.

1) Is your patient in good health?  Mouth sores, poor-fitting dentures, gum disease or dry mouth will certainly make eating a difficult task.  Intestinal or cardiac problems, diabetes, constipation and depression are also serious conditions that could contribute to a loss of appetite.  Regular visits to the doctor or physician might be a good idea to make sure the patient is healthy and enjoying his eating time.

2) A patient should enjoy his eating time.  Eating is a pleasure and an enjoyable activity.  If a patient is showing signs of distraction or agitation then try and find the source.  Remove any distractions in the room and ask the patient if he or she is comfortable.  Distractions can even be very small, such as loud tablecloths or colorful patterns on plates.

3) Build routines.  Meals be served consistently and at scheduled times.  It might help to use visual aids as a reminder for mealtime.  A clock with large numbers or a chalkboard listing the scheduled times would be helpful in getting the patient to cooperate.

4) Create a comfortable and safe environment.  Eliminate any odors or excessive noise that might interfere with a good meal and proper digestion.  Even sudden movements can be a distraction.  A safe and stable environment is necessary to creating a healthy mealtime.

5) Be careful in evaluating food quality.  Remember that you are dealing with a person who has become accustomed to certain tastes and preferences when it comes to eating time.  As much as possible try and keep the patient’s likes and dislikes in mind when preparing a meal.  Make sure the food is appealing in smell, appearance and moderate temperature.

6) Use a warm, easier style when giving instructions.  Make sure the instructions are clearly stated.  To-the-point commands like “Pick up your fork.  Put some food on it.  Now raise it to your mouth,” work fine and can even be repeated if necessary.

7) Patience is needed.  Be careful not to criticize the person’s eating habits or rush him to finish his meal.  The patient should look forward to eating time and see it as an enjoyable activity free from stress.

8) void foods that would cause indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.  A protection against this would be cutting or grinding some foods into bite sized pieces.  Some food like popcorn, nuts or raw carrots may get lodged into a person’s throat and are best avoided.  With some types of food it might be a good idea to explain to the patient that he should chew slowly and swallow carefully.

9) An Alzheimer’s patient may forget that he or she has eaten or have no concept of how much is too much.  It is best for the caretaker to serve healthy portions and restrict further portions when appropriate.  If a patient continues to ask for additional meals after eating time, it might be a good idea to start separating breakfast, lunch and dinner respectively, into several smaller courses.  In fact, planning for several small meals in the day is a healthier choice than serving three large meals.

10) Set a good after meal routine.  After eating time is over, check to see if the patient has swallowed the food completely and that nothing remains in his mouth.  Help the patient to practice good oral hygiene, including regular visits to the dentist.  If may be easier to use oral swabs than a toothbrush, just whatever works.  Good hygiene is not only healthy but also good for a patient’s self-esteem.

By taking into account these small but important reminders in evaluating eating time, a caregiver can take better care of a patient and see more positive results in behavior.  Learning more about Alzheimer’s disease care and treatment makes planning eating time that much easier.