I’ve been to the point of pulling my hair out the last few weeks, trying to coax my aunt to eat. If I prepare a meal and a plate for her and set it before her, she’ll find fault with something…the portions are too big, there’s something she can’t eat (which she actually can) because it’s too dry. It’s a common complaint by many caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s and dementia: refusing or ruining food.
I think I’ve gained an insight into this behavior. My aunt has no short term memory and she has severe COPD so she’s no longer able to prepare meals. She’s also, I believe, been suffering from OCD for many years and she really doesn’t like other people in her kitchen. After putting plate after plate on the table and having the food and myself criticized, I finally started putting an empty plate at her place and putting all the food on the table so she can serve herself. I was surprised to find that not only did she put the food on the plate herself and eat with almost no complaints, she actually ate more because she kept getting second and third helpings. This works with lunch as well. I prepare a bowl of soup and then put all the ingredients for making a sandwich on the table. She makes her own sandwich…slowly, and in unconventional ways…but she makes it and she eats.
My aunt has a problem with dairy. She was drinking nothing but milk. Her doctor told her that there was not enough water in milk to keep her properly hydrated and that she was drinking so much milk that it was having other adverse effects on her health…digestive problems, for example. I tried offering her a small glass of milk and a small glass of tea or juice and she ignored the other beverage and drank all the milk. In this situation, you may have to do the opposite of providing multiple choices of food. I stopped offering her milk at every meal. Now she’s drinking tea, and since it’s been so cold in the mornings this past week, she’ll also drink coffee before breakfast.
I still haven’t solved her problem with using excessive amounts of salt but I have removed the salt from the table so that it’s not right in front of her face and she has to think of it and then ask for it.
Finally, when you put food on the table for a person with Alzheimer’s and dementia, resist the urge to open all the containers and condiments. Let the person at least attempt to open (cold) containers and condiments on their own and don’t jump in to help unless it’s obvious they just can’t do it themselves. I think that when we do every single thing for the person with Alzheimer’s and dementia, they lose the motivation to try to do it themselves. My aunt can open a container of chicken salad. It takes her a minute, but she can do it. On a good day, she can stand at the sink and dry the dishes and put them away as I wash them. She can’t pick up a gallon jug of milk from a sitting position. She can dress herself and make her bed and fold the laundry, but she’s forgotten how the washer and dryer work. I’m firm about leaving certain tasks for her to do even though it may take her hours to get around to it. It helps her feel that she’s still useful and not totally reliant on her caregivers and she does things so slowly that at least she’s not sitting in her recliner, bored, staring at the TV but not watching it.
I’ll go into alleviating boredom in Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers in another post. I hope the tips on easing mealtime stress are helpful.