- GRIEF SUPPORT
- EVENTS & RESOURCES
- PHYSICIAN REFERRALS
Persons living with dementia commonly exhibit challenges with eating, but the reasons vary. Let’s explore a few possible causes of appetite decline.
Memory trouble. In the early stages of dementia, when a person may still be caring for himself or functioning with limited assistance, the problem might be simply forgetting to eat. When this problem is discovered, it’s a sign that care partners need to provide more frequent living assistance and check-ins.
Vision decline. As we age, we naturally experience a narrowing of our field of vision. For a person living with dementia, this process is on overdrive and it may cause him to not see a caregiver approaching from the side, or even a plate of food in front of them if he is not directly looking at it. Additionally, the ability to detect color and contrast becomes impaired; the person may have trouble, for example, seeing light-colored food on a white plate and, thus, think he’s finished his meal.
Lack of physical activity. Simple activities such as going for a walk and helping with basic household tasks like washing dishes can boost mood and energy, which, in turn, may help increase appetite.
Communication challenges. As the disease progresses, formal language usually disappears, and the person living with dementia is left with little ability to communicate his needs. He may stop talking completely and rely solely on nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and emotional commotions. When it comes to eating, be aware that such behaviors may be his way of telling you that the food temperature is not right or that he’s just not a fan of what’s being served for dinner.
Trouble with swallowing. This condition is called dysphagia and, among several causes, it can be linked to damage to parts of the brain that control swallowing. If the case is mild, it may be managed by ensuring the person takes very small bites and takes small sips of water following each bite. Changing meal prep to focus on soft, pureed items may help. It’s also important to provide a calm atmosphere during dining and to have the person sitting fully upright.
There’s no one-size-fits-all method to combat feeding challenges, so try out a few of these methods to see what might work for your patient.
Hope Hospice offers a free education series for family caregivers. The live webinars cover a variety of topics, including four presentations specifically on aspects of dementia care.