As dementia progresses, it can affect a person’s appetite and ability to enjoy foods in a number of ways. This challenge is even more severe during a shelter-in-place order, which restricts access to and availability of healthy foods.

For one, people living with dementia may not recognize their body’s signals that they need food or water. Indicators that tell us it’s time for dinner — a growling stomach, lightheadedness, fatigue — may not register the same way to a person with dementia, said Julie Fernandez, CALA, CDP, CADDCT, CPT, the director of team development and training at Sonata Senior Living.

“Dementia disrupts the way the brain processes the sensations of hunger and thirst,” she said. “A person with dementia may not realize that they’re feeling agitated or sleepy because their body hasn’t received the nutrients it needs.”

The condition can also affect one’s ability to recall why eating is important, she said. A person with dementia might also not be able to understand what purpose forks and other utensils serve.

Finally, in the later stages, dementia can affect our ability to swallow.

“Swallowing is not an innate skill,” said Fernandez. “It’s something we learn how to do as babies. Dementia can cause someone to forget how to use the muscles in their mouth and throat.”

The Importance of a Healthy Diet

As much as dementia disrupts one’s appetite, it also increases the body’s need for food.

In the early to mid stages of the condition’s development, people living with dementia might experience an increased urge to pace and wander, said Fernandez. This extra activity can increase their caloric needs threefold.

“The metabolism is on fire,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important that they get the calories and nutrients they need to maintain a healthy weight.”

Dementia Diet Strategies in Memory Care Communities

There are certain strategies caregivers can use to offset the nutritional challenges posed by dementia. The key is to make food readily available and transportable.

Finger foods can take a variety of nutritious and tasty forms: a sandwich, scrambled eggs in a tortilla, lettuce wraps, a mug full of soup or cereal.

At Sonata Senior Living, we encourage residents to enjoy small servings of grapes and sliced bananas.

“By presenting your loved one with finger foods, you’re helping them enjoy their favorite meals without the need of a utensil,” said Fernandez. “Since the food can be enjoyed on the go, you’re also honoring their body’s desire to pace and roam.”

And while many of us have been told it’s rude to eat with our hands, finger foods help your loved one retain their independence.

“Eating a sandwich is a much more dignified experience than having someone assist you with your soup bowl,” Fernandez said.

During a shelter-in-place order, many finger foods such as muffins can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer for easy access, thereby extending the window between grocery store trips or deliveries.

To learn more about memory care at Sonata Senior Living, call us today or schedule a visit.

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