Dining and Alzheimer’s Disease: How We Can Combine the Two

Memory care is a person-centered approach to Alzheimer’s Disease. Memory care is currently the fastest growing segment in senior care, because it treats the person, not her disease. Too many care providers load up Alzheimer’s patients with anti-psychotic drugs to keep them calm and under control. That school of thought is thankfully declining as memory care grows in popularity.

In the past, we’ve talked about memory care and what sets Bridgeway Senior Living’s memory care program apart. At Bridgeway, we treat our residents with Alzheimer’s as the vibrant individuals they were before their disease. Our members enjoy increased quality of life, with fewer medications, fewer falls, and fewer trips to the emergency room.

Today, we’re going to explore a different area of memory care.

Dining.

Eating is an important part of the human experience. How many of your memories involve food? Can you still taste the favorite food from your childhood? Do you enjoy dining out with loved ones?

For individuals with Alzheimer’s, eating can become a fraught experience. They may no longer know the difference between a fork and a spoon. They may lose the ability to hold a glass. Certain tastes and textures may also become hard to eat. At the same time, maintaining a healthy diet with enough caloric intake is crucial to their health. Routinely skipping meals because of difficulty, food aversion, or any other reason is especially dangerous for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

In a memory care setting, everything should be built around the individual as much as possible. This includes the menu, the space, the schedule, and the equipment.

Here are three things memory care communities can do to help their residents continue to enjoy eating. If you are caring for a parent or loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you can implement one or all of these tips to make mealtime easier for everyone.

1. Simplify their food choices.

Don’t give residents with Alzheimer’s a huge variety of foods to choose from. That can just overwhelm them, and they may decide not to eat anything at all. At Bridgeway, our independent and assisted living residents enjoy a wide range of gourmet meals. But our memory care residents do better with a more limited menu. Of course, the regular offerings are available for those residents who want it.

Keep in mind that many people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty understanding words. When offering them two meal options, plate them first and show them their options. This will help them understand their options better.

2. Involve all five senses.

Alzheimer’s disease steepens the natural age-related decline of the senses. Pay attention to the sensory experience when setting up the dining area. Use smooth textures and a clutter-free environment. Keep the noise muted to help those residents who wear hearing aids. Since residents’ sensitivity to smell and taste are deteriorating, add extra flavor to the food.

Another way to take the five senses into account is with plate color. Use contrasting colors for the plate and tablecloth. You may want to plate dark food on a lighter plate on a black tablecloth, and use deeply colored dishes for paler foods. This will help residents differentiate between the food, plate, and table.

3. Take personal and regional preference into account.

What are the residents—or your loved one, if you’re at home—used to eating? For example, the Mediterranean Diet has a lot of benefits, especially for seniors. But if this particular senior with Alzheimer’s isn’t used to that diet, it might be hard to coax them to eat. Midwesterners tend to enjoy seafood, which is often soft and easy to chew, and red meat, which often isn’t. Serve your loved one food to satisfy their cultural tastes.

As we said, the main part of any dining plan for an individual with Alzheimer’s is that it’s focused on them. If what you’re doing works, continue with it. If you’re having trouble, try one of these tips to help your loved one maintain their health.

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