Living with Dementia? 10 Tips to Encourage Eating and Drinking

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In my family, we had a tradition on New Year’s to offer a toast. Simply “clinking” our glasses together prompted all of us to gulp down our beverages of choice. For us young kids, it was fancy grape juice.  My grandfather would accompany the toast with a declaration of “Here’s mud in your eye.”


In my work with those living with dementia, I often utilize this technique to call upon the muscle memory of drinking. You can find me any day declaring “Here’s to a wonderful day,” and offering my glass to a resident’s. They almost always follow with one drink. And I celebrate in the success that I am one drink closer to combatting dehydration, a common risk in dementia.


When living with brain change, the signal in the brain for thirst or hunger is not working properly. Getting creative and thinking outside of the box is imperative when encouraging interest in food and drink. Knowing the individual person is key, as everyone has their own routines, preferences and needs. As a caregiver, you will also have a better idea about their likes and dislikes. Here are some ideas that may help:


Make food look and smell appealing. Use brightly colored plates with contrast for visual appeal.


Offer water infused with fresh fruit for a refreshing hydration.


The aroma of cooking — for example, freshly baked bread or bacon — can stimulate someone’s appetite.


Look for opportunities to encourage the person to eat in their daily routine. For example, if the person with dementia is awake for much of the night then nighttime snacks may be a good idea.


Less is more: small portions offered multiple times are visually appealing.


Try protein-dense snacks.  Think veggies with peanut butter or hummus or cheese quesadillas cut into squares.


Don’t stop someone eating dessert if they haven’t eaten their regular meal. They may prefer the taste of the dessert.


Fresh smoothies or shakes are a great way to sneak in fruits and veggies.


Encourage the person to get involved at mealtimes. They could help prepare the food, set the table or create the centerpiece!


Use eating and drinking as an opportunity for activity and social stimulation. It may be an opportunity to talk about food rituals from their childhood, and this can be used to encourage appetite.


If resistance still is an issue, become a detective. Check inside their mouth for clues. The person with dementia may be in pain, which can make eating uncomfortable. They may have problems with their dentures, sore gums or painful teeth. Oral hygiene and regular mouth checks are important.


Cheers to your success!