Dementia can cause a wide range of symptoms that can make eating difficult, such as declining motor skills and difficulty communicating. As a caregiver, one of the most common challenges of caring for people with dementia is ensuring that they maintain a healthy appetite. In this blog post, we’ll discuss what can cause a poor appetite in people with dementia and some things you can try to bring your loved one’s appetite back.
What can cause decreased appetite in people with dementia?
There are many reasons why people with dementia start eating less. What’s more, your loved one may not have the capacity to communicate why they don’t feel like eating. It will be up to you and their other caregivers to watch their behavior closely to guide you to the right solutions for improving their appetite. Some things your loved one may be experiencing that can reduce their desire to eat include:
- Pain in the mouth, teeth, throat, or stomach area
- Medication side effects such as nausea, stomach upset, constipation, and lethargy
- A lack of physical activity (less calories burned during the day can naturally result in a lack of appetite)
- Trouble chewing and/or swallowing
- Fatigue (tiredness can cause people with dementia to not eat or give up partway through a meal. They may also have difficulties focusing on a meal until it is finished.)
Tips for improving your loved one’s appetite
One of the most effective ways to promote appetite in people with dementia is to make mealtimes comfortable and familiar. Establish a routine with meals at the same time, in the same place, each day. Also, ensure your loved one is seated comfortably with the table at an appropriate height and the food within easy reach. Try not to overload the plate with too much food – small and medium portions tend to work best.
It is also important to be mindful of your loved one’s preferences and needs and to accommodate them as much as possible. For example, during late-stage dementia, achieving a perfectly balanced diet can be less important than keeping your loved one nourished and strong. You may need to stick with a few comfort foods you know they enjoy. Conversely, some people with dementia will have their appetite perk up when there’s a variety of foods at mealtime with different colors, textures, and smells.
You may also need to account for your loved one’s physical limitations. People with dementia may have difficulty swallowing or with eating certain types of food like sticky peanut butter or hot soup. Cutting food into smaller pieces can help. Switching to softer foods or easy-to-eat finger foods can also be effective.
Social support during meals is another tactic that can work wonders with your loved one’s appetite. Eating together with family members or other caregivers can provide a sense of companionship and can help to create a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. Sometimes, talking about food and good meals from the past can encourage an appetite.
Finally, it is important to remember that people with dementia may experience changes in their appetite as the condition progresses. It’s important to work closely with healthcare providers to monitor your loved one’s condition and to make any necessary adjustments to their diet. If their appetite continues to decline, speak with their doctor.