An unexpected challenge that goes along with a dementia diagnosis is making sure that the patient is eating enough, eating consistently and eating nutritiously. Nutrition is a known pillar of a healthy, happy lifestyle. However, as cognitive health and memory decline, those with dementia can forget to eat, become stubborn and resistant at mealtimes and can experience losses in appetite. This leads to a destructive cycle. Poor nutrition leads to unhealthy weight loss and even more mood swings and behavioral problems, which in turn lead to the patient refusing healthy meals and so on.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers specific tips for those who are dealing with these challenges. Alz.org encourages families or caregivers to:
- Provide a balanced diet with a variety of foods.
Offer vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods.
- Limit foods with high saturated fat and cholesterol.
Some fat is essential for health, but not all fats are equal. Go light on fats that are bad for heart health, such as butter, solid shortening, lard and fatty cuts of meats.
- Cut down on refined sugars.
Often found in processed foods, refined sugars contain calories but lack vitamins, minerals and fiber. You can tame a sweet tooth with healthier options like fruit or juice-sweetened baked goods. But note that in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, if loss of appetite is a problem, adding sugar to foods may encourage eating.
- Limit foods with high sodium and use less salt.
Most people in the United States consume too much sodium, which affects blood pressure. Cut down by using spices or herbs to season food as an alternative.
These may seem like obvious changes to make, but in a world that is overly saturated with information, clear directions like these can help relieve stress on caregivers who are already feeling overloaded.
It is also important to note that the environment your loved one with dementia is eating in can have dramatic impacts on the success or failure of mealtime. Because of the tunnel-vision and other vision problems that many dementia patients experience, placemats, plates and tablecloths that feature loud or busy patterns can be confusing and can cause patients to have difficulty locating food.
Another important thing to remember is to foster a soothing atmosphere during mealtime. Turn the television off or down, and if there is music playing, keep it soft and without lyrics. A quiet, calm environment is often more conducive to comfortable eating experiences.
At Cross Creek at Lee’s Summit, these details are taken care of for each and every resident. Our color-coded dining rooms, which are well-lit and designed for those with memory care needs, provide a calm and pleasant atmosphere for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dietary Manager and Chef Galen Cloughly makes healthy choices and variety a top priority without compromising too much on tradition and comfort.
“Adding menu items with antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries and cranberries, and using whole grains, pastas, nuts, fish and finger food can be very beneficial for dementia patients,” Cloughly says, “and using lots of fresh fruits and vegetables infuses vitamins into familiar, home-cooked meals.”
That, Cloughly says, along with the exercise and fitness programs put on by Cross Creek’s Recreation Therapist Mary Beth Kaup, will help promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle among Cross Creek residents.