There are many reasons why a person with dementia may turn down food and drink, such as depression, communication problems, painful dentures, tiredness, changes in medication, or lack of physical activity. Here are a few suggestions to stimulate their appetite and interest in food and drink.
Make the environment stimulating to the senses: familiar sounds of the kitchen and the aroma of cooking can stimulate someone’s appetite.
Involve them in meal preparation: By being involved in preparing food and drink, skills are maintained and the person stays interested in the food and drink around them. Small, individual tasks, are important for the person with dementia to do themselves, such as buttering bread or setting the table.
Limit distractions: The eating environment should be calm and relaxing. Serve meals in quiet surroundings, away from the television and other distractions. Soft music may help.
Keep the table setting simple: Avoid placing additional, unnecessary items on the table that might distract or confuse the person.
Distinguish food from the plate: Changes in visual and spatial abilities may make it tough for someone with dementia to distinguish food from the plate or the plate from the table. It can help to use white plates or bowls with a contrasting color placemat. Avoid patterned dishes, tablecloths and placemats.
Check the food temperature: A person with dementia might not be able to tell if something is too hot to eat or drink and food that’s gone cold will lose its appeal. Always test the temperature of foods and beverages before serving and serve half portions to keep food warm.
Serve only one or two foods at a time: Too many foods at once may be overwhelming. Simplify by serving one or two dishes at a time.
Be flexible to food preferences: Keep long-standing personal preferences in mind when preparing food, and be aware that a person with dementia may suddenly develop new food preferences or reject foods that were liked in the past.
Give the person plenty of time to eat: Remind him or her to chew and swallow carefully. Keep in mind that it may take an hour or longer to finish eating.
Beware of Choking: If the person is having difficulties chewing or swallowing, try naturally soft foods and avoid foods that are difficult to chew thoroughly. Be alert for signs of choking and learn the Heimlich maneuver in case of an emergency.
Eat together: Make meals an enjoyable social event so everyone looks forward to the experience.
If the person’s appetite does not increase and/or he or she is losing weight, consult with the doctor. The doctor may recommend a dietitian to advise on what is best in your particular situation and tailor a solution to meet the person’s needs.