Challenges at mealtime are extremely common for those with dementia. These mealtime challenges will change as dementia progresses. There are distinct and separate challenges that are associated with early, middle and late stage dementia.
What are the common mealtime challenges for those in the Early Stage of Dementia?
- Loss of concentration
- Changes in food preferences
- Reporting that foods taste bland (foods previously enjoyed)
- No longer enjoying favorite restaurants
- Unable to hold attention through a meal
- Distracted by the environment at mealtime
What are the common mealtime challenges for those in the Moderate Stage of Dementia?
- Confusion and unawareness of surroundings, place and time
- Appetite increase and weight gain
- Decreased appetite and weight loss
- Failure to understand proper use of utensils
- Refusal to sit during meal times- pacing, wandering
- Increased difficulty with word finding and decision making
- Unable to recognize food temperatures
- Unable to see food as food (may think food is poisoned)
- Unable to recognize food items once liked
- Hiding of food
What are the common mealtime challenges for those in the Severe Stage of Dementia?
- Preference for liquids over solids, due to appetite change or lack of swallowing ability
- Aggressive or combative behaviors during a meal
- Clenches jaw, or closed fist when attempting to feed or be fed
- Refusal to eat due to unknown reasons (variety reasons could be at play)
- Inability to self feed, not being used to being fed
- Swallowing impairments ranging from mild to severe
- Weight loss despite regular caloric intake (can also be due to increase activity due to increased anxiety)
What are some important tips for a creating a dining environment for those with Dementia?
- Tableware contrast ( avoid white plates on white linens)
- Too many utensils
- Avoid high gloss floors
- Natural light is best
- Avoid a distracting dining environment with too many items on the table
- Make sure the table and chair is sturdy, and of the right height
- Simplified dining room is best
- All food served at once is usually best (although there are some exceptions)
- Offer finger foods (avoid finger food that are too intricate or rare)
What if the above tips do not work?
If the above tips do not help with the challenges presented at mealtime, your team needs to take further steps to make sure that nutritional needs are met and your resident with Dementia is getting adequate caloric intake and the necessary nutrition.
The first thing your team needs to do is to do a full assessment of each person’s unique situation and determine the specific deficiencies caused by the mealtime challenges. During the assessment your team must set goals and prioritize the deficiencies, identify resources needed based on the severity of a person’s challenges. Your team needs to also identify possible behavioral and nutrition interventions such as a change of dining environment. Finally your team should specify the time and frequency of the intervention.
Please check back soon for Part II of this article