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The Importance of Good Nutrition for Dementia Sufferers

So many of the things we take for granted in life become difficult for those with dementia, not the least of which is eating healthy and nutritious meals. Poor nutrition can increase a dementia patient’s behavioral symptoms. It can also cause weight loss that could make a person’s condition deteriorate more rapidly. To prevent these issues for seniors with memory disorders, caregivers need to make sure that those in their care are getting nutritious meals that help them maintain their physical and cognitive health.

It sounds simple, right? However, for a variety of reasons, people with dementia, especially older adults, don’t always want to eat. Some reasons for this include:

  • Not recognizing food. The person may no longer be familiar with the foods that they may have eaten in the past.
  • Ill-fitting dentures. Eating may hurt because of dentures that don’t fit correctly.
  • Medications. Any additions to or changes in medications may change the patient’s appetite.
  • Not enough exercise. Not exercising will decrease a person’s appetite.
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste. This may cause the food to be less appetizing as it once was.

Despite all of these issues, a healthy eating plan is important for seniors with dementia. They don’t need to have any special diet, unless they have other issues that call for certain food restrictions. If not, they should eat a well-balanced, varied and nutritious diet which will help them maintain optimal health.

Here are some ways you can help someone with dementia to keep up good eating habits for as long as possible:

  • Limit distractions. Serve meals in a quiet place. Avoid television or other distractions so the person can concentrate on eating.
  • Keep the table setting simple. Don’t put items on the table such as centerpieces or plastic fruit that might distract or confuse the person. That goes for extra utensils as well; only put utensils on the table that the person needs.
  • Distinguish food from the plate. Someone with dementia may have a hard time distinguishing food from the plate or the plate from the table because of impaired visual abilities. Try to use white plates or bowls with a contrasting color placemat. Avoid anything with patterns.
  • Check the food temperature. A person with dementia might not be able to tell if something is too hot to eat or drink and may burn themselves. Test food and drink temperature before serving.
  • Serve only one or two foods at a time. Too many foods at once may be confusing to the patient. Try serving one food at a time, for example, mashed potatoes followed by meat.
  • Be flexible to food preferences. Dementia patients may not remember liking certain foods, or may suddenly like something that they didn’t care for previously. Keep that in mind when preparing food. This is one of the ways our individualized comfort care comes into play in our Memory Care Suite; it’s about providing what the individual prefers.
  • Give the person plenty of time to eat. This helps avoid the risk of choking and creates a calm atmosphere, so important for emotional well-being.
  • Eat together. Make meals a social event so residents look forward to the mealtime. Research suggests that people eat better when they are in the company of others.
  • Keep in mind that people with dementia may not remember when or if they ate. If the person asks over and over about eating breakfast, consider serving several breakfasts—maybe eggs, then toast, then a pancake, then juice.

At the Lester Senior Housing Community’s Memory Care Suite, we understand the importance of good nutrition and caring for healthy bodies as well as minds and spirits. Healthful and enjoyable meal experiences for our residents are just one component of the holistic, person-centered care our caregivers provide. If you have a loved one with a memory disorder who would benefit from Memory Care at Lester, contact David Rozen at (973) 929-2725 or davidr@jchcorp.org.