How to Eat Well With Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia
There’s no special diet for people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, but good nutrition can ease some symptoms and help them feel good. When you’re caring for someone with the condition, there are simple ways you can make eating healthier, easier, and more enjoyable.
Remember the Basics
The basic rules of a healthy diet apply to everyone, whether they have Alzheimer’s and dementia or not. Build a meal plan that helps your loved one:
Eat a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. Keep a healthy weight. Proper portion sizes and exercise are a key part of this, too. Limit foods with high saturated fat and cholesterol, like fatty meats and fried foods.
Cut down on sugar.
Avoid eating too much salt.
Drink plenty of water.
Mind the Medications
Ask your loved one’s health care team if there are any foods or drinks that can keep the medicines they take from working. Also check if any of the meds affect their appetite, bowel movements, or cause other problems that can affect their nutrition. Their doctor may be able to change the dose or suggest another drug that will ease side effects.
Some Alzheimer’s and dementia medications can cause constipation. It can also happen if someone doesn’t eat or drink enough. Make sure your loved one:
Gets plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in their diet. These are great sources of fiber, which can help curb constipation.
Drinks enough water and other fluids.
Stays active. Exercise can help get things moving in the bathroom, too
Ease Dry Mouth
Someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia may not drink enough water because their body's signal for thirst isn’t as strong as it was. Some medicines can dry out their mouth, too. Remind your loved one to drink water, and try other ways to avoid dry mouth:
Dunk breads, toast, cookies, or crackers in milk, hot chocolate, or tea to soften them.
Remind them to take a drink after each bite of food to moisten their mouth and help them swallow.
Add broth or sauces to foods to make them softer and wetter.
Offer sour candy or fruit ice to help their mouth make more saliva.
Watch for Weight Loss
People with Alzheimer’s and dementia may feel less hungry or thirsty, have problems chewing or swallowing, have trouble using utensils or feeding themselves, or make bad food choices. This raises the chance that they won’t eat enough and will lose too much weight.
To help your loved one keep up their weight and get the right nutrients:
Offer smaller meals or snacks more often. Eating five or six times a day may be easier than getting the same amount of food in three meals.
Give them a daily multivitamin.
Help them focus on the more nutritious, higher-calorie foods in the meal first.
Prepare things that are easy to eat. Good options are bite-sized finger foods, like chicken nuggets, tuna sandwiches, orange slices, and steamed broccoli.
Make meals enjoyable. If lunch or dinner is a social event, they may look forward to it and eat better.
Trouble chewing or swallowing could be a choking risk, so talk to their doctor if they have a hard time. The doctor can recommend a special diet or foods that are easier to eat.
Use utensils or dishes that are easier to handle. A spoon and bowl may be better than a fork and plate.
Exercise can boost appetite. Encourage your loved one to take walks, garden, or do simple chores to stay active.
Not feeling hungry and weight changes can also be signs of depression. Talk to their doctor if you think this might be a problem.
If you need help building a meal plan, a dietitian can help you find ways to make eating healthy and easy for your loved one. Ask the doctor to recommend one.