Practical ways of helping you better care for a person with memory loss and confusion:
1: Offer Meals at Regular Times
- Set a routine for when and where meals are served.
- Try an easy to read daily schedule or other memory aid to remind the person about meals.
- Make mealtime a highlight of the day.
2: Give Clear and Simple Instructions
- Speak clearly and slowly.
- Repeat instructions using the same words each time.
- Break down the eating process into simple steps. For example, say, “Pick up your spoon. Put some potatoes on it. Raise the spoon to your mouth.”
- Use visual as well as verbal cues. For example, show the person how to lift the fork to his or her mouth.
- Be patient and praise the person’s efforts.
3: Reduce Distractions
- Make sure the person has used the bathroom before sitting down to eat.
- Clear away extra items such as salt and pepper shakers.
- Try solid colored plates, tablecloths and placemats. They are less distracting than patterned ones.
- Be flexible. If the person is distracted, take a break and return to eating later.
4: Prepare Ahead of Time
- Prepare the food before serving. For example, have the dressing on the salad and the butter on the bread.
- Have the food already cut and on the person’s plate.
5: Provide a Calm Environment
- Try soft, relaxing music.
- Allow the person enough time to eat. It may take him or her an hour to finish a meal.
6: Make Eating Easy
- Give the person one utensil at a time.
- Put one food item on the plate at a time if necessary.
- Try bowls and spoons. They are often easier to handle than plates and forks.
- Cut food into small pieces.
- Put bowls and plates on a non-skid surface such as a placemat or tablecloth.
- Fill glasses half-full or use cups with non-spill lids. Try bendable straws.
- Use plastic aprons, tablecloths and placemats to make cleanup easier.
- Try plastic cups and dishes to reduce breakage.
7: Try Finger Foods
- If it is easier, let the person use his or her fingers instead of utensils.
- Offer foods that are easy to pick up. Foods such as cheese, small sandwiches, fresh fruits and vegetables work well.
8: Serve Foods the Person Knows
- Prepare food in ways familiar to the person.
- Remember that if the person didn’t like a food before, he or she probably isn’t going to like it now.
- Let the person have smaller and more frequent meals if that is what he or she wants.
- Try colorful, aromatic and flavorful foods to enhance a person’s appetite.
- Offer plenty of fluids with meals.
9: Check for Physical Comfort
- Test the temperature of the food. Remember that the person may not be able to tell you if the food is too hot or too cold.
- Check to see that all food is well chewed. You may need to cut food into smaller pieces or puree it in a blender.
- Take the person to the dentist immediately if you suspect he or she is experiencing any pain in chewing.
10: Plan Ahead When Eating Out
- Choose quiet, well lit, familiar restaurants where service is fast.
- Plan to eat before or after the meal rush. Try eating lunch at 11:00 instead of 12:00.
- Find another caregiver and go out as a foursome.
Adapted from Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) Educational Materials with permission. www.alzfdn.org