Frank was in his 18th year of Alzheimer’s and deteriorating fast. He was predominately non-verbal and only spoke a few words; he often just shouted unintelligible sounds. He needed assistance to eat, and he was losing weight so rapidly we figured the end must be nearing.
I’d often visit at lunchtime to help him eat, and one day this is what happened.
The kitchen staff placed the plate in front of Frank, and I noticed he seemed interested even though it was some mystery meat and canned vegetables. I chopped up the food into tiny bits and offered it to him. He opened his mouth like a baby bird, but then he didn’t chew or swallow it. He looked at me distressed, and with food dropping from his mouth, he pushed out the word “Can’t.”
I went into the kitchen and said he couldn’t eat this food. The girl replied, “Oh, he always says that!” I could feel the anger rising from my solar plexus, and when it got to my head, I yelled out, “That’s because he can’t damnit!”
I notified his wife, and we got a doctor’s order to put him on pureed food. He gained 10 lbs. in two weeks and lived another nine months still eating.
It is imperative to know when to switch to pureed food. A person with dementia often loses their ability to swallow or remember how to chew. Sometimes they have a bad tooth, and it’s essential to have that checked out. They might be afraid because they had aspirated food before and choked. Even though they consciously don’t remember what happened, fears can attach to the eating of food.
Pureed food can be attractively presented using the cake icing squeezer (can’t remember what you call it) and arranging the different colors of food in agreeable shapes on the plate. Fruit smoothies are a big hit because of the sweetness, and they can be thickened by adding more fruit, yogurt, or applesauce. Adding protein powders can ensure they get enough nourishment. I don’t recommend the Ensure canned supplemental drinks. Full of chemicals and mostly sugar. Why not go natural? It takes more time but keeps them healthier.
If they can still chew and swallow sometimes putting the food into their own individual small bowls that are easy for the person to see and hold improves eating. This is a great idea for healthy snacks.
Remember a healthy person with dementia is a happier person with dementia, and so are their caregivers—less anxiety, pain, illness, and doctor visits for everyone.