How do I get my mother with Alzheimer's to eat better?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 30, 2016
Donnasue asked...

She takes a bite and says it is good but I don't want any more. I try at least several things every day before I get her to eat. It kinda takes all day. I usually feed her or she spills it or forgets she has it. She sits on the sofa in the den in front of me in the kitchen. It takes a long time to chew so I just bring her a bite every now and then. She won't eat anything green.

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Encouraging an Alzheimer (AD) person or someone with a related disorder to eat can be extremely frustrating for the caregiver. Particularly since we continually hear about trying to maintain proper nutrition throughtout the disease process. How does one do this when the affected person refuses to cooperate or is incapable of understanding what is expected? A daunting task at best! I hope at least one of the following suggestions proves fruitful for you: * Shortly before you want her to eat, use some aroma 'therapy' to fire up her taste buds. A pot of coffee brewing, a few vanilla beans boiling in a pot of hot water, or lemon extract placed on a cotton ball near where she sits may all aid in getting hunger to begin. * Since she most likely does not recall whether or not she has already had a meal, 10 minutes or so before you are ready to feed her, you may want to start talking about food and different foods she may have once enjoyed. Although she may not be able to grasp the whole concept, some of the culinary words may be familiar. * Do talk about your own hunger and how ready you are to eat. * Sit across from her when you are encouraging her to eat. AD folk often mimic what they see and benefit at mealtime from companionship. Many community-based care providers report how much better AD residents dine when they do not eat alone. * Be sure to check her mouth for irritation or ill-fitting dentures; a visit to a dentist may be in store. It is difficult for this special population to let us know if something hurts or is uncomfortable. It is up to the caregiver to play the role of Sherlock Holmes to discover why our loved ones are no longer doing something that was once part of a familiar routine. * Does she clearly see the food that is presented. Remember that depth, color, and contrast all play an important role in the dining experience and all are affected by AD. Try using a brightly colored plate on a white placemat. Do not use plates that have a design as this is easily confused with food. * AD folks are easily overwhelmed by the dining experience and simplifying the setting often is the catalyst to getting the person to eat. Use only finger foods - a few at a time, get rid of silverware, use a mug for soup, and eliminating salt, pepper, sugar etc from the setting are all helpful ways to help her concentrate on one single item at a time; when that is accomplished, offer something else.
* Frequent small meals during the day generally work better than 3 meals. Offer small nutritious snacks frequently and leave things out for her to snack on when she chooses...cut-up fruit works well as do small finger sandwiches. Make sure snack foods are clearly visible. * and finally - you may find drinks prepared in a blender may be enjoyable. It is quite easy to add veggies, eggs, and other good foods to a base of milk and/or yogurt and or/ ice cream; these 'smoothies' can be fun to create and you can be assured she is getting at least some good nutrition. Do take care of you.