Alzheimer's: Making mealtimes easier

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's? Understand what causes eating problems and how you can encourage good nutrition.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Alzheimer's disease and eating challenges often go hand in hand. As Alzheimer's progresses, poor nutrition can aggravate confusion and lead to physical weakness, as well as increase the risk of infection and other health concerns.

If you're caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, understand what causes eating problems and how you can encourage good nutrition.

Consider underlying conditions

If your loved one is having trouble eating, check for underlying problems, such as:

  • Oral problems. Make sure dentures fit properly and are being used. Check for mouth sores or other oral or dental issues.
  • Medication effects. Many medications decrease appetite, including some drugs used to treat Alzheimer's. If you think medications are contributing to eating problems, ask your loved one's doctor about substitutions.
  • Chronic conditions. Diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems and depression can dampen interest in eating. Constipation can have the same effect. Treating these or other underlying conditions might improve your loved one's appetite.

Acknowledge declining skills and senses

In the early stages of Alzheimer's, your loved one might forget to eat or lose the skills needed to prepare proper meals. Call to remind him or her to eat or to offer help with food preparation. If you buy groceries for your loved one, choose food that's easy to prepare or doesn't need to be cooked.

If you make meals in advance, review how to unwrap and reheat them. Or consider using a meal delivery service.

Your loved one might also experience:

  • Diminished senses of smell and taste, which can affect interest in eating
  • Difficulty swallowing in the later stages of the disease

Expect agitation and distraction

Agitation and other signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's can make it difficult to sit still long enough to eat a meal. Distractions at mealtime might make this even worse. To reduce distractions:

  • Serve food in a quiet setting, away from the television
  • Put your cellphone on vibrate
  • Clear the table of any unnecessary items

Discourage your loved one from drinking alcoholic beverages. Although alcohol might stimulate the appetite, it can lead to confusion and agitation as well as contribute to falls.

Maintain familiar routines

Change can be difficult for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease. Maintaining familiar routines can make mealtimes easier. Try to:

  • View mealtimes as opportunities for social interaction. A warm and happy tone of voice can set the mood.
  • Respect personal, cultural and religious food preferences, such as eating tortillas instead of bread, or avoiding pork.
  • If your loved one has always eaten meals at specific times, continue to serve meals at those times.
  • Serve meals in a consistent, familiar place and way whenever possible.
Jan. 18, 2018 See more In-depth