All around the world, almost 10 million new dementia diagnoses are made per year. While the popular belief is that dementia is a natural part of aging, the truth is that this condition is brought about by some disease or some health-related incident, like Alzheimer’s or a stroke.
At the moment, no cure exists for dementia, and this condition is rather difficult to diagnose. If you are a caregiver that’s taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you undoubtedly have a lot on your hands while providing your loved one with every part of care that is associated with this. One such aspect is nutrition.
In the following article, we will touch on some of the reasons why dementia patients tend to lose appetite, or otherwise have difficulties eating on their own. Additionally, we will provide some solutions that you have available when your care-receiver stops eating for any reason.
Why do dementia patients stop eating?
When people have difficulties eating and/or drinking, they are increasing their chances of weight loss, dehydration, and it might even lead to malnutrition. For dementia patients, this is especially dangerous because of the nature of their condition, and therefore, this problem should be addressed as soon as possible. Here are some of the reasons why dementia patients would have difficulties eating:
Neck, throat, or mouth pain
Badly fitted dentures, or poor oral hygiene can cause a huge discomfort or pain in the mouth, making eating a difficult task. Dementia has also been known to affect areas in the brain that are involved in muscle control, which can affect chewing and swallowing, which further increases the difficulty of eating.
Some of the side-effects of the medications that are prescribed to Alzheimer’s or dementia patients include loss of appetite. Other side-effects of these medications include nausea and stomach pain, which can also avert dementia patients from eating.
Therefore, whenever the doctor changes the medication or the dosage of the old medication, make a consultation and find out if you should expect some additional side-effects. If your care-receiver starts having difficulties eating, talk to the doctor and try to find a solution, and see if there’s some other medication that is more suitable.
During its final stages, dementia can cause the person affected to be unable to properly communicate their thoughts and wishes in regards to food and drinks. Even if this is not the problem, they might also be unable to say why they are having difficulties eating.
Depression is another common characteristic for dementia patients, which can often lead to social isolation since they will have difficulties to communicate as they did before. This is further made more difficult because they will be afraid and confused about the condition they’re in.
Unsurprisingly, loss of appetite is common for people with dementia. However, more factors are involved when people diagnosed with dementia stop eating or drinking.
What can you do to help?
When you have finally found the root cause behind the loss of appetite of your care-receiver, you should be better equipped to try and find a solution. While the solutions we will provide you with have been proven effective in most cases, do keep in mind that they might not work for everyone. Additionally, if something works at one point, it’s not a guarantee that it will work again at a later day.
Provide more food choices
Dementia patients can often act like little children when it comes to food, so you should probably provide them with several food options. Make a daily meal menu, providing different foods and drinks for each meal, and ask your care-receiver which option they prefer.
Eat less, but more often
Suggest your patient to have a snack during the day between meals, and avoid giving them big meals. While a big meal might be alluring, the quantity and the pressure they might feel to eat everything is not.
You should always keep healthy snacks nearby, and encourage your patient to have some from time to time. An example of healthy snacks includes mixed fruits, fresh fruits, dried fruits, crackers, yogurt, and other dairy products, but make sure he or she is not lactose intolerant.
Offer them some of their favorite foods
If you can cook, try to make something that your care-receiver used to love. If not, try finding it in the local store or restaurant. They might respond positively to some foods from their past as a child, which could help bringing back their appetite.
If possible, don’t deny them the food that they prefer, as sometimes, calorie-rich foods take precedence before nutrition. Do keep in mind that junk food can’t be a substitute for a healthy diet. However, if they’re already on a fiber and vitamin-rich diet, an occasional candy wouldn’t hurt.
Give soft foods a try
If your loved one has difficulties chewing or swallowing, you might want to consider giving them some soft foods such as scrambled eggs, sweet potatoes, applesauce, yogurt, fish, rice, soup, or some other food that doesn’t require too much chewing.
Drinking their meals is also possible
Another great way for your loved one to receive their calories and nutrients are smoothies. They represent a great way to mix in vegetables like carrots, kale, or spinach to the fruit mix, mixing together various different foods in a tasty, liquid package.
Some other foods you could add to the smoothie are peanut or almond butter, avocados, yogurt, flax seeds, soy or almond milk, and even wheatgrass powder.
If you want to enhance the taste, you can also add vanilla extract or liquid stevia, which will also add a sweet taste to the smoothie.
Alternatively, you can also have a few nutrition drinks around, since these are also a great way for your loved one to receive their nutrients when all else fails.
When and if your dementia patient stops eating or loses their appetite, it can lead to a lot of worries to their caregiver. In order to resolve this issue, it’s a good idea to first find out the reasons why they have low appetite, or refuse to eat.
When you find the underlying reason, it should be more easier to take the steps needed in order to rectify this issue and have them eat their favorite foods once again, bringing all the nutrients to them and a piece of mind for you.
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