Dementia: Mealtime Strategies

This month, we’ve been discussing some of the speech, language and swallowing complications that can develop for a person with dementia and how a speech-language pathologist can help. Last week, we delved into some of the specific issues that may arise in eating, for example, difficulty with self-feeding, chewing or swallowing. Today, we’ll talk about some of the strategies you can use to help your loved one with dementia eat and swallow to the best of their ability. Remember: dementia is a progressive disease, so different strategies may be appropriate depending on the individual’s stage.

-Verbal Cues: Often a person with dementia has difficulty concentrating on the task at hand, or may simply forget what they are to do next. Providing simple cues such as, “Take a bite,” “Open,” “Chew,” and “Swallow,” can help focus a person on the meal and provide guidance for feeding.

-Visual and Tactile Cues: Sometimes, when an individual with dementia is being fed, they may not reliably open their mouth to receive food or drink. Visually presenting the spoon or lightly touching it to the person’s lips can server as a cue that it’s time to eat or drink. Tactile cues can also be used in chewing and swallowing; lightly touching or stroking the throat can serve as a physical reminder to swallow food.

-Minimize Distractions: Make sure the person’s eating environment is as peaceful as possible. Turn the television off, and close the door or windows. It can also help to establish routine to signal that it’s meal time. Seat the person in the same chair for each meal. You may also wish to play soft music or provide another routine auditory cue that it’s time to eat.

-Simplify: This is especially important when the individual with dementia is still at a stage where they are feeding themselves. Different food choices can be overwhelming; present one food item at a time, replacing it with another when it is finished. Likewise, avoid providing an assortment of cutlery, instead, setting one utensil out at a time.

If someone in your life has dementia and you are having difficulty with speech or communication, you may benefit from the services of a professional speech-language pathologist. A speech therapist can help your loved one maintain communication skills for as long as possible, and can help you to develop strategies to enhance communication. If you or someone you love has a communication disorder, contact Speech Associates of New York and allow our professionally trained and certified speech-language pathologists help you communicate to the best of your ability. Our team provides in-home evaluations and therapy, and is trained in the assessment and treatment of a range of pediatric and adult speech, language and communication disorders. Call us today at (212)308-7725 and find out how we can help you communicate your best!

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