A person who has Alzheimer's might not remember when he or she last ate — or why it's important to eat. To ease the challenges that eating might pose:

  • Eat at regular times. Don't rely on your loved one to ask for food. He or she might not respond to hunger or thirst.
  • Use white dishes. Plain white dishes can make it easier for your loved one to distinguish the food from the plate. Similarly, use place mats of a contrasting color to help your loved one distinguish the plate from the table. Stick with solid colors, though. Patterned plates, bowls and linens might be confusing.
  • Offer foods 1 at a time. If your loved one is overwhelmed by an entire plateful of food, place just one type of food at a time on the plate. You could also offer several small meals throughout the day, rather than three larger ones.
  • Cut food into bite-sized portions. Finger foods are even easier — but avoid foods that can be tough to chew and swallow, such as nuts, popcorn and raw carrots.
  • Limit distractions. Turn off the TV, radio and telephone ringer. Put your cellphone on vibrate. You might also clear the table of any unnecessary items.
  • Eat together. Make meals an enjoyable social event so that your loved one looks forward to the experience. If necessary, provide snacks to ensure his or her nutrition.


As Alzheimer's progresses, problems with incontinence often surface. To help your loved one maintain a sense of dignity despite the loss of control:

  • Make the bathroom easy to find. Post a sign on the bathroom door that says "Toilet," or post a picture of a toilet. At night, use night lights to help your loved one find the way to the bathroom.
  • Be alert for signs. Restlessness or tugging on clothing might signal the need to use the toilet. Be aware that your loved one might use a trigger phrase or words that might have nothing to do with going to the bathroom.
  • Don't wait for your loved one to ask. Consider taking your loved one to the bathroom on a regular basis, whether or not he or she needs to go.
  • Make clothing easy to remove. Replace zippers and buttons with fabric fasteners. Choose pants with elastic waists.
  • Take accidents in stride. Praise toileting success — and offer reassurance when accidents happen.

Patience is key

As you help your loved one meet daily challenges, be patient and compassionate. If a certain approach stops working, don't be discouraged. Instead, try something new or turn to support groups for ideas. As Alzheimer's progresses, your understanding, flexibility and creativity will become invaluable.

Feb. 28, 2015 See more In-depth