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Nutrition tips for individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia
Posted: 6/2/2020 8:00 AM by
Proper nutrition is important at any age, but it becomes increasingly important as we get older. Many seniors struggle with changing nutritional needs, but for dementia patients, ensuring adequate nutrition can be challenging at best, missed entirely at worst.
Since dementia patients progress through six distinct stages of the affliction, someone who is able to provide for his or her own nutritional needs now may not be able to down the road. Here at Interim HealthCare, we follow Teepa Snow's GEMS
States model in our specialized care for dementia patients.
To help you understand these GEMS and provide adequate nutrition for your loved one, here is a breakdown of nutrition challenges based on each of the GEMS, from our team of dementia experts:
Sapphires are aging normally and don't have the same nutrition concerns as a loved one with dementia. Still, there are some nutritional changes and concerns to be aware of.
You can help address these concerns by teaching your loved one about healthy portion sizes or using a portioned plate. You can encourage (and join!) your loved one in appropriate physical activities, and also partner up for meals. Address any underlying issues with medications, etcetera and if necessary, consult with a geriatric specialist if you're unable to assist with changes to improve nutrition.
Diamonds may be experiencing changing abilities, or may simply be "stubborn," so that loved ones are unable to be certain there is an issue. As a result of possible denial over the potential for a dementia diagnosis, your loved one may crave old habits to feel safe and secure.
For Diamonds, it's helpful to stick with food choices they know and like to eat. Introduce new foods by identifying them over and over to build comfort and familiarity. Diamonds may worry about things like cost or changes due to social situations at mealtime. Complaints about taste, smell, temperature and meal presentation are common.
Emeralds aren't keenly aware of the changes they're undergoing, but personal care may be slipping, especially with hygiene and nutrition. Emeralds may not realize they have just eaten, eating another meal shortly after dinner, for example. They may wish to follow old routines, yet struggle to follow them. Using utensiles may be difficult, so Emeralds may start eating more with their hands and fingers. They may be highly emotional and distressed, and do not like to be "bossed" around.
Ambers like to do things over and over like simple tasks, as it is soothing. They focus on sensations, and are highly sensitive to changes in their nervous system. This makes tasks like eating more challenging.
It's important to know what Ambers like and stick with it! Stay away from known dislikes, as it can be extremely upsetting. Since Ambers like sensations, playing with food, spilling and pouring food and beverages and not using utensils are common. Eating too fast or not at all are also concerns, along with taking food, spitting food out and even eating inedible items.
Rubies can make big movements, but lack fine motor skills needed to safely chew, use utensils and eat with their fingers. As a result, Rubies likely use their hands to eat. There is more dropping and spilling, and are often hyper-sensitive around their mouths and fingers.
Rubies communicate through behaviors and not words, and need you to offer food choices in their fields of vision. They may "pocket" foods, keeping it in their mouths, since they often have difficulty organizing when to chew and swallow their food.
Pearls are becoming immobile and may be curled in a fetal position. Although body and brain are failing, there may be occasional moments of connection. Pearls have swallowing issues and a lack of interest in food, and will have limited intake and drinking. If Pearls are not alert, offering food is not advised to prevent choking or aspiration.
The biggest piece of advice for Pearls is to show love and be patient. Let them know you understand and are there for them. Speech therapists, OTs and PTs can also assist in dealing with some of the nutrition challenges facing Pearls.
You're not alone.
Caring for a loved one with dementia -- at any stage -- can result in a seemingly unbearable amount of stress. But you aren't alone! Here at Interim HealthCare, we have created an extensive Dementia Caregiver's Guide that share specific tips that address each of the challenges noted above. The guide also has even more tips and advice to help you along your journey.
Download your free copy here