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Top Tips for a Healthy Diet for Alzheimer's Disease

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Updated: June 15, 2006

Balanced Diet and Alzheimer's Disease

The eating and nutrition of people with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia can impact on their health. Weight loss, nutritional deficiencies and inadequate fluid intake can all have dramatic and dangerous results. Someone with Alzheimer's disease can live for many years so it is important that caregivers respond to the changes that occur in memory and behavior as well as in their physical health.

The caregivers aim is to provide balanced diet that will maximize physical and mental health and promote wellbeing. Here's a few tips on how to do that.

A Balanced Diet. What's That?
A balanced diet is one that contains carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. A balanced diet will provide energy to maintain the body cells, tissues, and organs. A balanced diet supports normal growth and development and keeps you healthy. A healthy diet should contain 50% carbohydrate, 30% fat and 20% protein.

For more information on a balanced diet.

Alzheimer's, Behavior, Moods and Adequate Diet
Someone with Alzheimer's can have mood and behavioral changes that impact on their ability to take a good balanced diet. They may be highly distractible, talkative, apathetic, anxious, agitated or display wandering behavior that will all inhibit their ability to eat.

Responding to behaviors is not rocket science. It is often about:

  • being patient

  • finding different strategies to encourage dietary intake

  • If distractibility is a problem minimize external stimulus. In other words it can be helpful for someone with dementia to sit facing a wall rather than a window or an area where there is a lot of activity. It can help them pay more attention to eating and drinking.

  • I have spent many hours following after people with food because they were too anxious or agitated to eat sitting down.

  • The important thing is to encourage people with dementia such as Alzheimer's disease to eat and drink. Dietary supplements in the form of high protein drinks and food bars can be invaluable.

    Physical Difficulties with Eating and Dementia
    Changing diets to meet the individual's physical health needs is important. People in the different stages of Alzheimer's have different needs at different times.

  • Make sure that any dramatic changes in their physical state is not due to disease. People with Alzheimer's disease get sick too. Dramatic weight loss should always be investigated medically.Urinary tract infections, infections, constipation, diarrhea, pain and many other medical problems can all cause problems with someone nutritional and dietary intake.

    In the final stages of Alzheimer's disease many people having difficulty opening their mouths, chewing food and with swallowing so a soft diet or a diet supplements may be helpful.

    I have found one of the most common reasons for someone with Alzheimer's disease being reluctant to eat is constipation. Make sure bowel movements are regular, that the diet contains fruit and vegetable and that the person engages in regular exercise to prevent this common problem.

    Providing Food that is Ethnically and Culturally Appropriate for People with Alzheimer's and Dementia
    Do make sure you are offering a balanced diet that is culturally and ethnically suited to the person's needs. Offering meat to a vegan or vegetarian is not good. Muslims, Jewish people and people from other backgrounds require an diet that is prepared in an appropriate way.

    The Importance of an Adequate Fluid Intake and Dementia
    A good fluid intake that responds to seasonal changes is vital. The amounts of fluid we require depends on a number of factors, environmental heat, body temperature, state of health, amount of energy being used, to name a few them. Fluid intake should be about 1.5 liters each day (unless against a doctors advice).

    Encouraging Independent Eating & Dignity with Alzheimer's Disease
    Maintaining independence by encouraging the person with Alzheimer's to feed and drink themselves can take more time, but it is valuable in the long run and also helps maintain a person's individuality, independence and dignity.

    Good Oral and Dental Care

  • Good Oral and dental care is so important for everyone and is so for people with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.
  • If you get mouth infections from neglected care of the mouth, teeth and gums eating will become problematic. Disease, nutritional deficiencies and weight loss will result.

    More Information on Mouth and Dental Care Tips

    Article sources: Maria Parsons. 2001 Handbook of Dementia Care. Living at Home. Open University Press. Philadelphia.
    Howard Gruetzner. 2001. Alzheimer's- A Caregiver's Guide and Sourcebook. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York.
    K.M. Heilman Ph.D., L.Doty, Ph.D.., J.T. Stewart, MD., D.Bowers Ph.D., L. Gonzalez-Rothi, Ph.D.. “Helping People with Progressive Memory Disorders: A guide for You and Your Family”. University of Florida Health Science Center.

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