A calm, quiet environment can help improve the mealtime experience for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the biggest challenges a caregiver will encounter is providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. The impact on a family with a member who has been diagnosed with this disease can be devastating in a number of areas.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes changes in memory, thinking and behavior that are serious enough to interfere with daily life.

Although Alzheimer’s presents many challenges when providing care for someone afflicted with it, one of the most common is managing nutrition and ensuring the person continues to eat a well-balanced diet. While there is no special diet for someone with Alzheimer’s, it is essential that the person stays strong and maintains a healthy weight. Combating this necessity is the fact that your loved one may not remember if they ate or will tell you that they already had a meal.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • More than 5 million Americans currently live with the disease
  • In 2012, 15.4 million Alzheimer’s caregivers maintained over 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care that is valued at $216 billion
  • More than 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers classify the emotional stress of caregiving as either high or very high

When planning meals, present a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Cut the food into bite-size pieces so it is easy to pick up and manipulate with either a utensil or fingers; foods shouldnt be hard to chew or swallow. Since people with Alzheimer’s don’t always drink enough water, foods with high water content such as fruit, soups and smoothies make good choices. Alzheimer’s patients often suffer from visual problems and have difficulty distinguishing the food on their plate, so try to limit the amount and types of food being served. Also avoid dishes, tablecloths and napkins that feature a busy pattern. Even if it is a previous favorite, they may not recognize the food on their plate.

People with Alzheimer’s also are often easily distracted. A busy restaurant may be too much a quieter atmosphere with less environmental noises typically proves to be a better choice. While dining at home, try to limit the amount of items on a table and external noises such as the television or radio.

Providing meals while caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be a serious challenge. Many times, identifying the types of foods that the person wants to eat is a matter of trial and error. If the meal experience is frustrating, they may decrease their meal intake, resulting in weight loss, fatigue and withdrawal. Following some of these guidelines can enhance the meal experience for you and your family, ultimately make the individual with Alzheimer’s under your care look forward to their meals and help them maintain a healthy weight and nutritional profile.

Michele Mongillo, RN, MSN is a clinical director who has over 20 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings including acute care, head/spinal cord injury rehabilitation and long-term care.