Step 1: People with dementia sometimes lose interest in food. If possible, get your loved one involved in planning menus and preparing meals, or even just setting the table. This can help spark their interest and encourage them to eat well. Visual cues like salt, pepper and bottles of sauce on the table can prompt someone to eat.
Step 2: Your loved one's food preferences may change as their condition progresses, suddenly developing a dislike for (or struggling to recognise) foods that used to be favourites. Be flexible and allow them input into what they'd like to eat. They may be overwhelmed by too many options, though, so keep choices simple. For example, ask "Would you like some vegetable soup?" rather than simply "What would you like for lunch?"
Step 3: As people with dementia sometimes lose their appetite, make sure their food is presented in an attractive way. Great cooking smells and colourful food will encourage them to eat, and a clear, traditional layout on the plate makes it easier for them to recognise what they’re eating. Give them plenty of healthy foods as well, to make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need.
Step 4: People with dementia sometimes struggle to use cutlery during a meal, so finger foods are ideal. If focus is a problem, serve small portions and keep the remainder warm. Larger portions will go cold before they can finish their food, which will take away from the pleasure of eating.
Step 5: A calm environment is better for concentration, so try to remove any distracting music or noises while your loved one is eating to help them focus. Try not to make a fuss about any mess; it's more important that they’re enjoying their food and eating well.
Step 6: Sometimes people with dementia find it difficult to tell the difference between their food, the plate and the table, especially if they also have problems with their vision. Make it easier for them by using plates that contrast in colour with both the food being served and the table mats or cloth. It can also help if you describe the food so they know what they're eating.
Step 7: Always check that food isn't too hot or cold before you serve it, as your loved one may have trouble judging temperature.
Step 8: If possible, sit down and eat together so they can follow your lead. Encourage them to feed themselves, but help them use their cutlery if they’re finding it difficult.
Step 9: You may have to remind your loved one to drink fluids regularly. Offer water and other drinks throughout the day to help them stay hydrated.
Understanding how dementia affects people’s appetites and eating habits means you can take steps to help those you’re caring for eat well. By making mealtimes enjoyable and engaging for your loved one, and removing anything that could cause confusion or distraction, you can encourage them to take an interest in food and eat enough to get the nutrients they need.