FOOD! GLORIOUS FOOD! EATING WELL WITH ALZHEIMER'S
For older people who grew up during the Great Depression, food was plain and filling. They didn't have many food choices and considered themselves lucky to have bread and gravy, home-grown fruits and vegetables, Wonder Bread and bologna sandwiches to eat. Meat was often served only on Sundays. "If we didn't like what was on the table we just had to do without." they'll tell you. Nowadays families caring for older relatives with memory disorders who may have grown up during the Depression face the challenge of providing appetizing meals that will keep their relative well-nourished and healthy as the illness progresses.
HEALTHY EATING IN THE EARLY STAGE
Older people in the early stages of the disease may still be able to fix meals for themselves and shop for food with the help of a family member or neighbor. However, if your relative lives alone she may complain that she doesn't like to cook for just herself. Occasionally she forgets to eat or gets by on soup, sandwiches, frozen or take-out meals.
She may also have health conditions that affect her appetite including:
- Heart disease
- Constipation and other digestive disorders
- Poorly fitted dentures, gum disease or a dry mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
Ask her doctor if any prescription and over-the-counter medicines she takes may affect her appetite.
Many senior centers, churches, and local Offices on Aging offer free or low cost
meals to adults age 65 and older in their communities. These programs provide not only
a hot midday meal, but also the opportunity for older people to get out of the house and
socialize with others. Home-delivered meals may also be available. For information
about meal programs in your community contact your city or county Office on Aging.
HEALTHY EATING AS MEMORY LOSS PROGRESSES
As memory loss advances, your parent will no longer be able to prepare his own meals without help. You or other family members will be responsible for planning and preparing meals for her and making sure that she's eating enough nutritious food. Mealtime can also be a pleasant time for each of you to enjoy each other's company.
Tips for healthy meals:
- Serve meals at the same time every day in the same place. Plan meals with healthy foods your parent enjoys and allow plenty of time for him to finish eating.
- Offer several small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day if your parent doesn't have a big appetite.
- Make mealtime quiet and calm — turn off the TV and radio, limit other distractions so she can focus on eating.
- Make easy-to-eat sandwiches, cut-up raw vegetables, fruit and cheese.
- Save desserts and sugary treats for special occasions.
- Use paper plates and napkins, plastic cups and bowls.
- Make sure foods aren't too hot.
- Allow your parent plenty of time to eat.
- If your relative's appetite is poor serve several small meals throughout the day.
- Avoid foods that are hard to chew — they may cause choking.
- Keep your parent company while he or she eats — even if it's not mealtime for you.
HEALTHY EATING IN THE LATER STAGE
As your relative 's disease progresses keep mealtimes simple. Provide healthy, easy-to-eat foods that he enjoys. Serve meals in a quiet comfortable place and allow plenty of time for her to fini sh eating. If your parent doesn't eat much at mealtime serve small meals or snacks throughout the day. Remind her to chew and swallow if necessary. To prevent dehydration offer water, fruit or vegetable juice regularly.
MEAL TIMES AND MEMORIES
Eating meals together is an important part of family life. Families of people who have memory loss remember the times when their older parent taught them how to cook or shared special family recipes with them. Now it's their turn to use these skills to prepare healthy meals that will tempt the finicky appetites of their "teachers" and help them remain well-nourished and healthy.
A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.