Board-certified neurologist Dr. Andrew Lerman, in practice at Gables Neurology in Miami, Florida, offers highly effective and comprehensive care for numerous neurological disorders. He is often tasked with helping individuals and their loved ones navigate the twists and turns of dementia.
Dr. Lerman explains that the physical, emotional, and social changes related to progressive types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s can be confusing, frustrating, and sometimes overwhelming for everyone involved.
You can, however, make a real difference in your loved one’s life by helping them make a few adjustments in their diet and daily routine.
Nutrition and dementia
Generally, a diet for those with dementia should focus on healthy nutrition that includes a balance of leafy greens, lean meats, whole grains, and fresh fruits.
Go for a heart healthy meal plan that limits salt, butter and other solid fats, and refined sugars found in many beverages and snacks.
As dementia progresses, loss of appetite and confusion around mealtime can lead to inadequate nutrition and unhealthy weight loss. Dehydration may become a problem as well if fluid intake decreases.
Certain medications can also affect appetite. Also consider oral health issues such as poorly fitted dentures or dental decay as a reason for decreased intake.
Making mealtimes more comfortable for those with dementia
Try these steps to ease mealtime frustration and uncertainty:
- Serve smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals
- Encourage foods high in fluid content such as fruits, soups, or fruity shakes
- Keep mealtimes positive by eating with your loved one and encouraging conversation
- Stick with a daily routine, including regular timing and eating in the same room
- Limit noisy distractions such as television during meals
- Use simple place settings without bold or busy patterns for those with spatial issues
- Allow your loved one to choose the menu and help prep the meal when possible
- Serve several small courses in one meal
- Stick with easy to chew textures and bite size pieces
Should weight loss become an issue, tempting your loved one with a sugary or “unhealthy” treat now and then is likely okay, but do seek medical guidance first.
Stay in touch with your specialist and share concerns about nutrition and other problems. Dr. Lerman may, for instance, suggest supplements to help maintain weight and appropriate nutrition.
Your loved one may also benefit from a swallowing study or other diagnostic tests to ensure there isn’t a health issue causing the mealtime struggle.
Supportive lifestyle modifications for a loved one with dementia
As dementia progresses, your loved one will begin to need increasing levels of help with their daily care and routine. However, allow them to remain as independent as possible throughout all stages of dementia.
As dementia advances, consider organizing a daily routine that includes personal care, household tasks your loved one is able to complete, meals and snacks, and recreational and social activities.
As you plan the week, consider making time for:
- Activities your loved one enjoys such as walks to the park
- Visits with trusted friends and family members
- Social and cultural activities
- Reading aloud from a favorite book and discussing the characters or plot
- Completing crossword puzzles together
- Creative activities or hobbies
Plan your day but leave room to rearrange the timing of certain activities or skip an event entirely if your loved one isn't up to the adventure.
Physical safety is also paramount as progressive dementia advances. Consider scheduling a visit by an occupational therapist or similar professional who can evaluate your loved one’s living space and make safety recommendations to reduce fall risks and other potential accidents.
Also be sure to share your caretaking responsibilities with family members and various community resources whenever possible to adequately manage your own health and well-being.
Dementia is life-altering, but you don’t have to experience it alone. Schedule a visit with Dr. Lerman at Gables Neurology today for an accurate diagnosis and supportive neurological care regarding all forms of dementia.