How do I motivate my mom to eat?
It is difficult to ascertain if a loved one with Alzheimer’s is experiencing a loss of appetite, not feeling well or just doesn’t particularly like the food. Since individuals with Alzheimer’s have difficulty explaining their needs to others, mealtime is a special challenge to ensure proper diet and nutrition.
Mealtimes are usually social events, so the atmosphere in which your mom eats affects how she feels about the food and/or the people who are eating with her. Mealtimes are a way of being “connected” and in the isolated world of Alzheimer’s, it is very important for the her to stay connected to others and have those relationships.
So, look at the dining atmosphere first. Are there distractions, such as the television set being on or bad weather seen from a window? Your mom can be over-stimulated by just the environment around her.
Additionally, look at the plates and utensils you use to serve the food. Do they offer enough contrast so your mom can recognize food on her plate? Typically, solid red or solid blue plates are the best for contrast.
Use placemats, light a scented candle and play soft background music to make the experience more comfortable and enticing. And, be sure to sit with her so she is not alone as she eats.
Pay attention to the food you are serving your mom. Individuals with Alzheimer’s can have a positive dining experience when they can handle their own food. Try serving finger foods, such as sandwiches, raw vegetables, chicken nuggets or fruits, that can be easily managed and would give your mom that sense of dignity and control that she can still dine/eat on her own.
Prepare a smoothie or protein shake to complement the meal, if you feel she needs extra calories.
Make the foods tasty. Oftentimes, since our taste buds deteriorate as we age, the salt and sweet tastes still remain so, try sprinkling sugar or sugar substitute on the entrée so your mom can taste the sweetness first. That might be a motivator for her to eat.
Sometimes individuals with memory problems will only eat certain foods. Called “food jags,” these periods of cravings for certain foods may last a day or up to a week and the individual will repeatedly ask for the same food throughout the day. Complement the favored food with peanut butter or serve it with apples, celery sticks or other fruits and vegetable. Eventually, the individual will get back on track with a variety of foods.
Overall, make sure your mom gets plenty of water, and it also might be helpful to go for a walk before mealtime so she works up an appetite. If problems persist, and you feel your mom is not getting proper nutrition, consult a dietician or your mom’s physician.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.