For those living with Alzheimer’s disease it is important to understand the dietary needs and mealtime changes that need to occur to ensure a safer, more enjoyable quality of life. Mealtime means more than a balanced diet, as it is a key component of daily living providing a routine and socialization.
For someone newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and in the early stages, mealtime is a good time for socialization, with slight modifications. For example, rather than having a dinner party at a busy restaurant with 12 people, an intimate gathering of 4 – 6 at someone’s home would be more enjoyable. This would also be a good time to start a mealtime routine. Evening time can become a time of anxiety and aggression in those living with Alzheimer’s. Late meals can add to this and act as a trigger for unpleasant behaviors, so it is recommended that the largest meal of the day be midday. Evening time should consist of a light snack, making it easier to sleep through the night.
As the disease progresses to the moderate stage, it is necessary to increase taste, texture and color of the meals. Bright colors from fruit and vegetables add interest to the plate, and smoother textures can ease swallowing. In addition to daily scheduled activities, mealtime is a great time for social interaction. Eating in small groups consistently will provide comfort and familiarity and having a constant dinner partner can also be beneficial. Those living with Alzheimer’s like to feel as though they are contributing. Washing vegetables, splitting green beans, folding napkins and setting the table are examples of safe ways for them to feel involved in mealtime preparation.
In the late stages of the disease, it is important to focus on the texture of the food, for ease of swallowing. As it become harder for the Alzheimer’s resident to control their tongue and muscles used for eating, a smoother texture is needed throughout the diet. Of course, during this time, nutrition is just as important. Often times, supplements or shakes are needed to ensure the right nutrition is being consumed. Additional care and assistance during mealtime is needed.