By Christina Macdonald
A person with dementia may develop erratic eating patterns, with an increased need for sugary foods. You may find they develop a sweet tooth they never had before.
They may also find it harder than usual to eat normal sized meals, so you may need to give them smaller meals or snacks more often. Here’s how to manage cravings and improve the eating habits of a person with dementia:
• Don’t overstock the house with too many chocolates or biscuits – as the temptation will always be there, especially if the person is bored or restless.
• Encourage the person to eat lots of fruit snacks so they can enjoy sweet foods that won’t cause them to gain weight. Chop up fruit to make it easier to eat if necessary.
• Distract and deflect – if the person has had a lot of sugary foods and asks for more, offer them a cup of tea instead and you may find they will forget about their cravings.
• Encourage the person to stay hydrated – thirst can be mistaken for hunger water has a vital role in our health… it regulates many body functions, and can help to control appetite. Encourage them to drink water regularly or mix water with fruit squash if they don’t like plain water. Adding a slice of lemon to water will also make it more appealing.
• Avoid mealtime distractions – a noisy environment where there are lots of people bustling around can cause the person to become easily distracted. I noticed this in my mum’s care home where staff were moving around a lot during mealtimes and there was a hive of activity. Mum would often stop eating to watch the people moving around and her curiosity about what they were doing and the conversations they were having prevented her from finishing meals that she would have otherwise eaten. Try to seat the person in a quiet space during mealtimes.
• Eat meals together – encourage the person with dementia to eat with you so that you can monitor their eating habits and provide some company. Eating together is a sociable thing to do and will help recreate that sense of family and unity, so it’s good for their mental wellbeing too. It will also give you the opportunity to see if they are struggling to cut up food and if they may need help.