Written by Ryan on Wednesday the 6th of March 2019.
For people with living with dementia, especially those later in their dementia journey, you may begin to find that their appetite can decrease. A reduced diet can lead to many health issues, including weight loss, a poor immune system and increased risk of falling, all of which can lead to a reduced capacity for independent living.
There are a number of reasons that a person with dementia may start to lose their appetite, and these include:
Common for those in the later stages of dementia, dysphagia, meaning difficulty in swallowing food, can often occur when muscles and reflexes in a person’s body stop functioning properly. One risk is the increased chance of choking on food, which can be very distressing, and can lead to the person rejecting food out of fear or embarrassment.
Loss of appetite and interest in food can quite often signal that a person is struggling with depression, common in people living with dementia as they become more withdrawn or struggle with communication. However, with the right help, depression can be treated and appetite should increase.
Tiredness can affect a person’s ability to eat properly, often leading them to give up trying to eat halfway through a meal out of sheer exhaustion. To combat this, try offering a meal when they are at their most alert, perhaps just after a nap, or by moving dinner time to slightly earlier in the day.
Dementia can affect a person’s ability to communicate their wants and desires to you, so they may be struggling to convey that they are hungry or that they do not like the food that you are offering them. If a person refuses to eat, instead of removing the plate from them, give them the time and space to tell you what the issue is. You may want to use prompts or pictures so that they can tell you exactly what it is that they want to eat should they struggle with communication.
Lack of Physical Activity
For many people living with dementia, physical activity can seem rather overwhelming, meaning that there is a tendency to remain sedentary. This can lead to a lack of appetite. Exercise, no matter how gentle, can help increase appetite as well aid general health, both physically and mentally.
If a person is dealing with significant appetite loss, try not to agitate or stress them by pushing plate after plate of food on them. Take time to understand their likes and dislikes, routine and needs, as this will help you understand how to approach mealtimes. You can also try to encourage their appetite with some of these tips:
Tried and Tested
Give the person food that you know they like, rather than food that you think they should be eating. Obviously, you want to err on the healthy side, but allowing them to eat the food that they prefer will mean that you can be sure that they are at least eating something.
Try to make the food look and smell appealing and don’t overload the plate as this can be off-putting. A well-proportioned and appealing plate can help stimulate their senses, meaning that they are more likely to try and eat the meal. You can also use the opportunity to discuss the aroma, taste and look of the food, asking them to talk about memories they may have of certain foods from their childhood. This may help excite them about the food, encouraging them to eat.
Ask the person to get involved in the cooking process, giving them sense of pride and accomplishment when the food is served. This may inspire them to try the meal they helped create.
As people get older, their taste changes. This can sometimes lead to them lacking the ability to taste flavours as strongly as before. If this is the case, try to choose foods with distinctive, strong ingredients to spark their interest in the meal.
For people with dementia who suffer from swallowing or chewing issues, liquidised food, such as soups and smoothies are a good option, as well as naturally soft food like scrambled eggs.
If a person with dementia continues to struggle with their appetite, speak to their GP, who will be able to give further advice and signpost suitable treatments or therapies.