If you’re a caregiver for a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s, mealtimes, like other daily activities, may take on unexpected changes or challenges. You may find your loved one losing their appetite or interest in eating, or seeming to be pickier about what they eat and when. These are common changes that a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s may experience; however, here are some ways to continue to enjoy healthy, nutritious meals together.
Familiarity is Key
As dementia progresses, it becomes increasingly beneficial for your loved one to be in familiar surroundings with familiar faces. The same can be applied to meal planning. The more familiar they are with a particular dish, the more likely they are to appreciate it. This is especially true of foods that they grew up with or that they positively associate with, like those from holidays and special occasions.
Related to familiarity is your loved one’s ability to identify the food in front of them. Brett Svatos, Head Chef at Villa at Terracina, specializes in culinary arts for individuals living in memory care. Chef Brett recommends separating food items on the plate so they are easily recognized.
“Separate the starch, the vegetable, and the protein. Otherwise, they can’t always understand what’s on the plate.”
Using color to help visually separate foods is also a good idea. Lighter-colored food on a darker plate or vice versa can help your loved one distinguish food items.
The dining team at Villa at Terracina Grand always takes time to put together a beautiful presentation of what will be served for each meal, and shares that with the residents so they are able to anticipate and get excited about what’s for dinner. Also, there’s always an alternative meal prepared for those who have other preferences. That may not always be feasible at home, although Chef Brett suggests having on hand egg salad, tuna salad, or other sandwich ingredients as a back-up.
Aromas Help Stimulate Appetite
Another great tip is to consider introducing an aroma before the meal to help stimulate appetite. Chef Brett says they brew coffee and bake cinnamon buns every morning at Villa. The delicious aroma of popcorn before a movie is also great. At home, you may consider having your loved one in the kitchen as you’re preparing meals. Baking from scratch in the kitchen may also be a good way to encourage appetite.
At Westpark Village Senior Living, Executive Director Tina Vauthier says her staff also uses introduces aromas to stimulate the appetites. “We put spearmint essential oil on hand towels 20 minutes before meals,” she says. “It’s been very successful in increasing residents’ appetites.”