For seniors with memory loss, meals provide social engagement and sensory stimulation. They add structure and routine to their day, making it easier to know what’s next in the day. However, mealtimes present some challenges for caregivers, and these challenges only get more difficult as the senior’s memory loss progresses. Here are some ways that caregivers can make the mealtime experience more enjoyable, while promoting the well-being and dignity of their loved one. Helping an elder who has Alzheimer’s disease or a related memory disorder isn’t easy, but this will help.
1. Reduce Distractions During Mealtime
Anything that can take their mind off of the meal can utterly disengage them from eating. This can be disastrous, since they may forget about eating all together. So keep the noise to a minimum, and turn the television off. Some of their favorite soft music is a good idea, but make sure that it is not very loud or of a very fast tempo. Keep them sitting, eating, and enjoying.
2. Watch Before You Help
Since the abilities of a person with memory loss can change from day to day, it’s extremely important that we see how they are managing their dining very often. If they can still use their fork and knife, let them. If prematurely take over it might cause them to lose that skill faster. If you see that he or she is not eating, try suggesting something like; “How about we place the bacon and eggs between those slices of toast?” which might encourage eating.
3. Provide Visual and Verbal Cues
Sometimes those with Alzheimer’s can be unsure or confused about the dining experience. If you notice them picking at their food, be sure that you are seated with them at the table, offering them both visual and verbal guidance. You can raise your fork to your mouth with a pleasant tone of voice you might say something like, “The green beans are delicious, you should try some, too.” They may want to replicate your actions, and eat with you.
4. Offer Hand-Over-Hand Assistance
If you notice that your beloved elder can no longer use utensils, hold back from immediately feeding that person. First, try some hand-over-hand assistance by placing your hand over their hand and gently guiding them to complete the process. It effectively jump starts the person’s ability to use the utensil. Even if you know that he or she may not be able to use the utensils at all, you can still provide hand-over-hand assistance. It will make them feel that they still have some control and independence. Though sometimes all they need is a reminder.
5. Enable Them to “Walk and Eat”
Sometimes sitting down and eat just isn’t something they are going to do today. When this is the case, you can always place the food in a bowl and walk with them. You can make a sandwich or an ice cream cone and take a stroll.
The goal here, with all of these steps, is to enable independence, and provide care. Mealtime is an invaluable time to be supportive.
To learn more about senior dining, get in touch with A Gentle Touch Senior Home & Health Care at 631-647-7622.