Did you know that over 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease? September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and in order to help increase awareness, we’re dedicating this month’s blogs to topics in Alzheimer’s disease. Today, we’ll talk about a topic that is often overlooked with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia: feeding and swallowing issues. Even though cognitive and communication issues often take center stage, difficulty with eating is also a significant problem for many people with dementia.
Early on, a person with Alzheimer’s may become distracted during mealtime or forget what they are doing while eating. As the disease progresses, mealtime issues may center around forgetting how to use utensils or how to initiate eating. In the later stages, a person may chew for a very long time without swallowing, spit food out, or hold food in the cheeks or mouth. Check out our three tips for making mealtime easier for your loved one with dementia.
- Reduce distractions and sources of stress. People with dementia can be easily distracted and upset which can make mealtime difficult. When the person is eating, turn off the television and close the door to the room if there is noisy activity outside. Take items off the table that may be distracting. In addition, serving items one at a time can help keep a person with dementia focused on the meal.
- Come down to eye level. If you’re feeding a person with dementia, standing above them can not only be intimidating, it also increases the chance of choking because of the way the head tilts up. Be sure to sit during mealtimes—it’s safer and will help you connect with the other person.
- Get help from a professional. In addition to being trained in communication issues, a speech-language pathologist is also trained to help with dysphagia or difficulty swallowing. This can range from helping a caregiver develop strategies to get a loved one to focus on a meal, to changing the texture of food and liquid during later stages of dementia so that food is swallowed safely and the person with dementia is getting enough food and liquid to stay healthy.
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