How can I promote good eating habits for my mother who has Alzheimer’s?

Start by offering a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish and poultry, low-fat or non-fat dairy products and use less sugar and salt.

As the disease progresses, mealtimes can become more difficult for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. To ensure that your mom enjoys mealtimes, remember that it is more important for her to feel good about being able to feed herself and enjoy food than to always be neat and tidy. All food should be able to be eaten with dignity.

If your mom, for instance, is having difficulty with cutlery, finger foods can be a nutritious and easy alternative. Make sandwiches and fruit slices, which are healthy and easier for her to hold. Adapt your mom’s old favorite foods to hand-held foods — wraps, veggies, cheeses, cube steak pieces, muffins, small hot dogs or pizza slices.

You might also look for specifically designed utensils, ones that are easy to grip with large handles or curved shapes. A ridged glass or cup that is clear will help her to not only hold it, but also to see what kind of beverage she is drinking. The Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network, latan.org, has a wide variety of assistive devices to aid in independence in eating.

A calming and nonthreatening environment will encourage your mom to eat. Consider how the table is set, using solid colors and eliminating distractions such as an overabundance of flowers or other things that might clutter the table.

Make sure the area where she is eating is well lit, that background noises are minimized and that the television set is turned off. Play soft music and use pleasing aromas like peppermint or vanilla. Have her meal ready before calling her to dinner and use serving ware that offers a contrast with the food, such as solid red or solid blue plates. Bold contrasting colors will help her distinguish between different objects and foods, giving her more confidence and a feeling of well-being and security.

Remember that mealtimes are a way of staying connected. Simply, the act of sitting down to eat a meal provides opportunities for relating and connecting. Specifically, mealtimes reinforce physical, psychological, and emotional ties with self, caregivers, family and broader social networks.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.