• Jan 24, 2017
  • by Jenneke van Hemert


Diet and nutrition play an important role in maintaining health and wellbeing. Being well nourished means feeling better, having less severe side effects from medication, and having better results from medication. All of this results in a higher quality of life. In contrast, being malnourished, meaning, not being able to eat or absorb sufficient nutrients, means having increased risk for falls and illness requiring hospitalization and losing an independent lifestyle. Dementia and cognitive impairment are by far the most important contributors to losing an independent lifestyle.

People with dementia are vulnerable to the onset of weight loss, change in feeding behaviours, and need for feeding assistance. To understand why your parent is losing weight, and guidance of what can be done about it, consult a dietitian. The nutrition expert can help keep your parent as well nourished and comfortable as possible.

Sometimes, your parent may refuse to eat for reasons not understood. Reasons your parent may refuse certain foods

  1. Can’t chew very well

Loose fitting dentures, missing teeth, or a sore mouth effect the ability to chew foods. Avoidance or refusal to eat tougher foods such as meat is common. Modifying the texture so that it becomes easier to chew is a fitting solution. There are several textures available such as soft foods, minced foods and pureed foods. Ask your dietitian about how to prepare these foods, or which meal delivery services in your neighbourhood can provide you with these specialized textures.

  1. Swallowing difficulty

Also called dysphagia, difficulty swallowing can be a scary experience. Food may go down the wrong pipe, which can result into an unpleasant choking episode. If foods enter the lungs, it can cause a lung infection requiring hospitalization. Signs of dysphagia can be as subtle as a runny nose during meals, or teary eyes. Any fluids such as water are most difficult to swallow, because a liquid moves fast to the back of your mouth and is hard to control when you have dysphagia. Thickening fluids can provide relief. Diet modification and moistening of foods is likely necessary to aid swallowing, as well as diet education to the family care giver to avoid certain high risk foods.

  1. Changes in senses of smell and taste

Medications, oral health, or changes in the olfactory and taste buds can all effect ability to smell and taste. Solutions can include brushing teeth and tongue frequently, use of plastic cutlery to decrease metallic taste, taking in enough fluids to keep mouth and tongue moist. Changes to the food can include use of herbs, vinegar, lemon and spices. Variety in the menu is key to keep the senses engaged and interested. Visually pleasing dishes with colors or patterns can entice interest to eat as well.

  1. Difficulty using utensils

Sometimes, dementia can cause confusion to how to use utensils. Naturally, care givers will try to assist with feeding. This may be successful for some, but for people who are not ready for that stage, finger foods can be a great solution. Bite size foods that can be easily handled with the fingers can maintain independent eating. Ask your dietitian for appropriate finger food ideas. Some specialized meal delivery services may provide finger foods that are healthy and enjoyable.

  1. Poor appetite

The physiological changes of aging may be common, but are not normal. Just like any other symptom of aging, it can and should be addressed to stay well. It is important to get enough nutrients and so that the body can function properly, fight of illness and heal. It is important to prevent weight loss, especially when someone is already frail. Poor appetite can be managed by eating small amounts frequently. Every bite counts, so eating foods with lots of energy, protein and nutrients is necessary. Taking liquid supplements between meals may also be necessary.

  1. Forgetting to eat

A daily routine can help with regulating mealtime. Getting up everyday at the same time, setting the table and enjoying the meals in a social setting are helpful in reminding someone to eat. Seeing someone else enjoying a meal in a familiar setting can help things along. When you as the caregiver are not there, an alarm clock, or a phone call, may be a useful reminder at mealtimes. Snacks that are in plain view and are easy to eat can be enjoyed between mealtimes.

  1. Not being able or willing to prepare meals

Some people with dementia can’t or won’t prepare meals for themselves. This can be particularly difficult if they are living alone. As a dietitian, I encounter this scenario often: When the elderly person does not want to be a burden, they result to tea and toast, with eggs in the morning. This diet is not sufficient to meet the needs of an elderly person. A meal service can resolve the issue. Check with your local dietitian what meal services are appropriate for your parent.