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Making Meal Time Enjoyable

Mealtime for people with dementia can be stressful, overwhelming or frustrating. They may no longer recognize the food in front of them or can’t see it clearly because of poor depth perception. They may struggle to use a knife and fork as coordination becomes difficult. Food may not taste the same or as flavorful as it once did. Food may be difficult to chew or swallow or they may not want to accept assistance with eating. Appetites may also vary among individuals with dementia. Some will want to eat all the time, while others have trouble eating a healthy amount.

Here are some tips to help make mealtimes more enjoyable and successful:

Set the mood

Meals should be relaxed and unhurried in a well-lit and calm setting, free of distractions. Because of possible depth-perception problems, use contrasting colored plates and linens. It can be difficult to see food such as mashed potatoes on a white plate on a white table cloth. Provide the right equipment for independent eating, such as scooped plates, large-handled silverware, and cups with lids. If utensils are cumbersome or frustrating, provide finger foods. If the person is able, have them help set the table and prepare the meal. If your loved one enjoys music, playing soft, instrumental music can help create a soothing mealtime experience.

Savor the moment

To enhance the dining experience, it’s important to know the person’s likes and dislikes and plan meals accordingly. Have the meal ready to serve prior to sitting your loved one at the table. Provide a small number of food choices and serve small portions frequently throughout the day — large portions can be overwhelming which can prevent them

from eating any of it. Cut up foods prior to serving them, so they can focus on the food and not the mechanics of trying to eat. Sit with your loved one during the meal. If you have to assist them with eating and drinking, talk about what you’re offering to help remind them of tastes and flavors. Eat with them. Often, they will do what you’re doing and you can gently remind them throughout the meal if they get distracted.

Drink it in

Dehydration is of particular concern among people with dementia as it can aggravate the symptoms of the disease. Therefore, it’s always important to have plenty of liquids available with the meals. Plain water can be boring, even for those in the best of health, so to make beverages more enjoyable, flavor water with lemon or orange slices. Add additional fluids by serving Jell-O, soup, pudding, popsicles, smoothies or “mocktails.” Keep fluids within easy reach during the meal and use travel cups to prevent spills. Finally, avoid really hot or cold drinks as some people with dementia may lose the ability to judge temperature.

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