As Alzheimer’s progresses, patients may gradually stop eating. The first step is to determine what is causing this. If the patient stops eating suddenly, this may be a sign of a medical condition unrelated to Alzheimer’s, such as a cold, urinary tract infection, stomach problems, nausea, depression or anxiety. But if their appetite slowly tapers off, chances are that this is an effect of the disease.
Sometimes patients don’t realize that food is meant to be eaten. If that’s the case, try spoon feeding or eating with them. It may help them to smell or touch the food before they begin eating. And they are more likely to eat if the food is a different color from the plate it is served on.
It’s important to feed them at the same time each day, with the largest meal being served when they are the hungriest. A set routine will train their body to be hungry at the time that the food is served.
If they aren’t eating because they find it hard to swallow, this can be solved by serving them soft foods such as applesauce and yogurts. Liquids can be thickened slightly with cornstarch. Cut solid foods into small pieces and have them swallow several times in between each bite. They will find chewing and swallowing easier if they are sitting upright.
If the problem is that they are getting distracted or agitated during mealtimes, serve them meals in a quiet place. If they tend to walk around while eating, try sandwiches and other finger foods (assuming they can swallow them without trouble). Try giving them one type of food at a time with only one utensil. Too many choices may be causing confusion and preventing them from picking any.
Nursing facilities often run on a tight schedule, but your patient may need a longer time to eat. They may need to eat, chew and swallow each bite thoroughly before moving on to the next. Give them as much time as possible to eat and try not to rush them.
Finally, if your patient is just not eating enough, ask their doctor about feeding them a calorie-rich milkshake or giving them a multivitamin to complement their diet.