Nutrition and Eating

A Healthy Diet

A good diet and 6 to 8 glasses of liquid (unless there are restrictions from the physician) are important to health. Foods rich in the B vitamins are critical to keep brain cells and nerves healthy; these foods include dark, green vegetables, beans and other legumes, meat, fish, and dairy products. Routine gum, tooth, and denture care are also important. When using a toothbrush becomes difficult, frequent visits to the dentist's office may be necessary.

If weight loss is a problem, nutritious snacks every one or two hours may help. Boost the calories of foods with extra butter, oleo margarine, cheese sauces, or diet supplements. People over 65 years old and who are more than 10 to 15 pounds overweight may benefit from foods with fewer calories, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Also helpful is more frequent exercise, such as walks, folding clothes or towels, kneading bread dough, sanding wood, or scrubbing furniture outdoors.

Eating Made Easier

As the ability to coordinate hand and finger movements change, cutting up food and feeding oneself may become a struggle. It may help to set up one dish or bowl with a small amount of food and one spoon. Foods that are colorful and easy to put on a spoon will help, for example, soft casseroles or stew. Foods such as peas, rice, pieces of meat, or spaghetti may slip off a spoon unless they are in small pieces with sauces to hold the pieces together. Mashed potatoes, vegetables in cheese sauce, thick soups, puddings, yogurt, and applesauce are easy to manage.

When a spoon is hard to use, finger foods such as small pieces of fruit, vegetables, meats, bread, or cheese will help keep eating an independent activity. If swallowing becomes a problem, moist, soft foods help. People who struggle to swallow may find it easier to drink thicker liquids, such as tomato juice and milk, and may struggle with thinner liquids, such as water or apple juice. Sometimes liquid leaks into the lungs when people swallow poorly. After a few swallows, the person should cough to make sure the lungs are clear, then continue eating.

Eating with Dignity

Wearing a colorful shirt or blouse when eating in a public place helps disguise spilled foods or liquids. Also, the person with the memory disorder should sit in the quiet part of the restaurant and away from the people traffic. The person with the memory disorder should sit in a chair facing a wall and not a window or the dining room, watching activities of everyone else. In this way, the person is more able to focus on eating and not be distracted by other people in the restaurant.

Material adapted from “Helping People with Progressive Memory Disorders: A guide for You and Your Family” (University of Florida Health Science Center). Used with permission form the authors K. M. Heilman, Ph.D., L. Doty, Ph. D., J. T. Stewart, MD., D. Bowers, Ph.D., & L. Gonzalez-Rothi, Ph. D.

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College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida