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tips for caregivers: Difficulty eating

As your loved one ages, they may experience changes that impact their appetite, their ability to distinguish taste, smell, temperature and texture of food, and if they have dementia, they may have difficulty feeding themselves. You can help your loved one maintain proper nutrition and avoid unwanted weight loss and other negative outcomes by following the tips below. Your loved one's physician may also recommend nutrient-rich liquid supplements to help your loved one maintain their health.

  1. Make sure the dining area where your loved one takes meals is appropriate. If your loved one has vision problems, poor lighting can make it difficult to see the food in front them. Use plates without distracting patterns and make sure there is adequate color contrast between food and plate. Remove distractions-e.g., turn off the TV-especially if your loved one has dementia, since they may have trouble focusing on the fact that it is mealtime. Remove unneeded items from the table and make sure there are not too many food choices.

  2. If your loved one has difficulty grasping utensils, replace some foods with finger foods such as small sandwiches, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables. If necessary, use plates with large rims, cups with lids and wide bases, flexible straws, utensils with large handles, and nonslip placemats to keep dishes from moving on the table.

  3. Mood, behavior and physical function can impact eating as dementia progresses. Maintain familiar routines. If the person in your care has always eaten dinner at the same time, honor that. If they have always prayed before meals, continue to say the prayer before eating. Don’t introduce unfamiliar routines, such as a hearty breakfast if your loved one has had a slice of toast for breakfast their entire adult life. If your loved one is receiving assistance from a home care aide, be sure to share these preferences and routines with them.

  4. Make sure your loved one is sitting upright while they eat to avoid choking. If they have difficulty chewing, food can be minced, shredded or pureed.

  5. Dry mouth can make chewing and swallowing difficult, so make sure your loved one stays hydrated by offering water throughout the day-this can also help avoid constipation, confusion and dizziness.

    A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.