Nutrition and Dementia – The Challenge

Close your eyes and pretend to be this mom.

A mom sits with her food in front of her in her appointed spot in a nursing home dining room.  The aides are busy carrying trays and seating other people.  Mom is surrounded by other residents, some are feeding themselves, others are rocking in their seats. Eventually an aide comes and pulls up a chair next to her.  The aide starts to shovel the soupy and cold food into her mouth with a spoon.  Mom spits it back out.

Now change the scene and picture Mom in her own home, seated at the table, soft music is playing in the background. Delightful and colorful food is in front of her.  The caregiver sits next to her with her own plate in front of her.  The caregiver keeps cheerful, light and adult appropriate conversation going.  Mom is not always making sense as she responds, but the caregiver is listening and responds back.  The caregiver is referring to the food and prompts Mom respectfully to use her spoon or fork in the process.

Since the day the caregiver entered the home, Mom’s symptoms and health has improved.  She has gained back to a healthy weight and there are less doctor’s appointments.

We have learned that in irreversible dementias, there is little chance of developing healthy new neurons in the damaged areas.  Nevertheless, experience has proven that happy interaction and nutrition can still contribute to a better quality of life. Therefore, we can conclude that the healthy part of the brain can still grow healthy cells.  Perhaps the growth is slower, but worth the effort of making sure the person with brain disorder gets the nutrition needed for better quality of life.

The challenge is to make sure that good nutrition is available. With many cases, I have heard family caregivers say things like, “Mom always used to like this food and now, she won’t eat it.  She’s so hard to plan meals for.”  Indeed, I do understand that.  I have learned that along with changes in the brain, personality and behavior comes changes in habits, likes and dislikes. As it is with everyone else, taste may change from one meal to the other.  There are days we may feel like pizza and another meal, we want steak.  My best advice in offering recipes for nutrition is to listen, watch body language, keep trying new things, and offer meal supplement drinks if the client is not eating well. Keep the atmosphere pleasant and eat with them.

Watch for other nutrition blogs to follow.







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