For most of us, mealtimes are a chance to enjoy some good food and take a welcome break. But for some dementia patients, eating is a stressful experience. Why do they resist what was once such a favorite aspect of life? Are they simply “being difficult?”
There are a number of underlying causes that may result in a dementia patient not eating or eating with difficulty:
Cognitive problems. Dementia patients may have trouble with being able to distinguish the food from the plate, or may have trouble with using utensils. They may also forget to eat or to continue to eat, even if they’re sitting at the table!
Psychological problems. Few of us have much of an appetite when we’re depressed, and unfortunately this is a common problem for dementia patients. It’s also possible that your loved one may be too restless to sit down for meals.
Physical problems. It may be that your loved one is too tired to eat. They may also have sores or other problems in their mouth that make eating painful. The fit of dentures is something else to consider, as is physical difficulty with using utensils or trouble with chewing or swallowing.
Environmental problems. Too much confusion at mealtimes could make it difficult for your loved one to focus on eating. A room that’s the wrong temperature, has bad lighting, or an unpleasant smell may also make your loved one too uncomfortable to enjoy their meal.
Problems with the food itself. Dementia patients can easily be overwhelmed if there are too many possible choices on the menu. Food that is unappetizing in some way may also make them reluctant to eat. Or it could be that something about the food makes it difficult to handle.
Medication or other illnesses affecting appetite. Some medicines, or the way the medicines are interacting with the food, might kill your loved one’s appetite and cause them to be uninterested in mealtimes. Similarly, some chronic diseases can also decrease the desire for food.
If your parent isn’t eating, the first thing you should do is to take the time to simply observe them during a meal. Watch closely to determine where the problem starts. You may want to eat at the same time, so that you can think about all the steps involved in eating that you normally take for granted. This may be enough for you to diagnose the problem, or you will at least be better prepared to approach your loved one’s doctor about the issue.
By understanding why your loved one might not be eating, you can ultimately make sure that they get the nutrients they need.