Dementia and Appetite: Is Your Loved One with Dementia Not Eating?
Dementia and Appetite

Dementia and Appetite: Is Your Loved One with Dementia Not Eating?

If you are a caregiver for an individual with Alzheimer's disease or another related form of Dementia, it is common for their appetite to slowly weaken as their disease progresses. Let's take a closer look at the connection between dementia and appetite, including potential causes and solutions. 

What's the Connection Between Dementia and Appetite?

Eating and drinking are both very complex processes that require the simultaneous use of strong muscles in the throat and neck as well as the control center in the brain. As Alzheimer's disease or related forms of dementia progresses, the disease affects these areas, which may be expressed as choking or coughing when eating. This complication could also appear to the caregiver as:

  • Grimacing when swallowing, 
  • Clearing of the throat, 
  • Holding food in the mouth,
  • Refusing to swallow,
  • Spitting food out, and
  • Exaggerated movements of the tongue or mouth. 

Additional Reasons Someone with Dementia Might Lose Their Appetite

In addition to the progression of the disease, your loved one may not be eating because of the following potential factors. 

Pain/ Discomfort

If your loved one is in pain, it can make eating much more uncomfortable. The source of the pain could be tender teeth, complications with dentures, or sore gums. In these cases, regular mouth checks, as well as oral hygiene, are very important and could lead to a solution for the underlying problem causing your loved one to refuse foods or liquids. 

Depression

Depression is very common among diagnosed individuals, and loss of appetite could be a sign of depression. There are several effective treatments for those suffering from depression, including different therapies and medication. If you suspect your loved one is suffering from depression, make sure to bring it up with their physician, who can provide expert recommendations.

Communication Problems

If your loved one with dementia has complications communicating, they may attempt to communicate their needs and wants through simply not eating. For example, if they don't like the food you're giving them, they can hold food in their mouth or refuse to eat. If you suspect this is the cause, using prompts, pictures and offering them a choice of different foods may help. 

Fatigue

If your loved one is fatigued, it can cause them to not eat — particularly giving up halfway through the meal. Fatigue can also cause other difficulties such as coordination complications and concentration problems. It's vital to be aware of this connection and encourage your loved one to eat when they are most alert. 

Constipation 

Constipation is a very common problem for those living with dementia. It is common for constipation to cause an individual to feel nauseous and/or bloated, which may result in a reduced desire to eat. However, you can remedy this problem by encouraging your loved one to eat fiber-rich foods, drink plenty of fluids, and take other steps to prevent constipation. 

Lack of Physical Activity

If your loved one isn't very active physically during the day, they may simply not be hungry. Encouraging them to participate in appropriate physical activities can help increase their appetite as well as improve their overall wellbeing. The Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation offers stage-specific day programs that includes appropriate physical activities on a daily-basis. 

Tips to Improve the Appetite of Your Diagnosed Loved One

There are a range of different ways to improve your loved one's interest in food and their appetite. Fortunately, you already have a head start – knowing your loved one’s likes and dislikes can be a huge help in offering what will make them salivate! Here are a few tips and ideas that may help: 

  • Try different types of drinks or foods, flavors, smoothies, and milkshakes.
  • Help the food be more appealing by using different colors, tastes, and smells. Use the aromatic appeal of food to stimulate your loved one's appetite. 
  • During the late-stage, achieving a balanced diet may be less important. Instead, give your loved one with dementia the foods they will enjoy.
  • Keep the portions small.
  • Because food tastes change, try sweeter foods or stronger flavors.
  • Never stop your loved one from eating their dessert — even if they didn't eat all of their meal.
  • If your loved one has problems swallowing, try serving softer foods.
  • Encourage your loved one to get involved at mealtimes by suggesting they help lay the table and prepare food. 

Make drinking and eating an opportunity for social stimulation. Taking the time to talk about different foods, for example, from your loved one's childhood, may encourage an appetite. 

Anytime your loved one refuses to eat, try again later. If this continues, make sure to speak to their physician about your concerns. 

Contact Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation 

At LIAF, we offer a full range of innovative day programs designed to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia remain active and engaged throughout the day. Our state-of-the-art center focuses on what diagnosed individuals can still do, happily and productively, and not on what they can no longer do. All of our programs are designed to be stage specific, such as:

In addition, we offer several caregiver support groups and an in-home respite program to encourage everyone to receive the best quality of life. 

Contact LIAF today to learn more about our services and how we can help those impacted by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

About the Author Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation

At the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation (LIAF) our mission is to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, and their caregivers. We actively work to achieve this mission through research-based programming for all stages of Alzheimer’s, Caregiver Support Groups, in-home respite solutions, transportation options, and additional services.

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