How Your Loved One’s Nutrition is Impacted While Living with Alzheimer’s

If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you’ll soon discover new signs and symptoms that accompany this disease. You’ll soon discover new layers unfold as you learn what accompanies the disease. Aging impacts health in a variety of ways, but when your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it takes on a whole new meaning. One of the important facets of ensuring your loved one’s health is helping them maintain proper nutrition. The topic of nutrition and Alzheimer’s will be important to discuss with your loved one’s doctor. Understanding the role that appetite, specific foods, weight-loss and weight gain play into your loved one’s health is vital to their well-being.

Throughout each stage of Alzheimer’s, your loved one’s needs are going to change. In the early stages of a diagnosis, there may be an opportunity for creating a detailed meal plan that will optimize their nutritional intake. However, as time goes on you may need to let go of the nutrition fundamentals that you have been taught are a priority. When your loved one stops eating the more nutritional options because of anxieties or lack of interest, it may be more beneficial to take a deep breath and let go, since weight loss is a bigger concern. Incorporating a variety of foods that are known as “unhealthy” for your loved one is better for them than undereating all together. While these changes will be an adjustment for all parties involved, they will help your loved one maintain their weight. However, be sure to consult with a doctor before any such changes.

Memory Care Food

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be difficult to adapt to and will take time. When dementia and nutritional deficiencies are a worry, the potential for malnourishment should be taken seriously. Unfortunately there isn’t a decisive list of malnourishment signs to look for in your loved one. However, you may find commonalities that you can keep your eye out for to better understand how to successfully transition your loved one’s nutritional intake.

Why Does Appetite Change in People Living with Alzheimer’s?

There are a variety of reasons that your loved one’s appetite may change, and identifying these reasons is going to be imperative to their health. Your loved one could be experiencing any of the following when it comes to their relationship with food:

  • Anxiety
  • Embarrassment
  • Poor vision
  • Reduced ability to smell
  • Their portions or food could be different than what was offered at home
  • Hand dexterity problems
  • Gastrointestinal problem
  • Pain (mouth, dental, chewing, swallowing, etc.)
  • Inability to identify items on a plate
  • Background noise-causing distractions

While in the presence of your loved one, take note of the environmental factors around them to ensure they are not negatively impacting them. If you can identify what is causing your loved one to stay away from their food, you will be better equipped to build an action plan. Malnutrition and weight loss are unfortunately lurking in the shadows of those who are living with Alzheimer’s, so a plan is vital to their overall health.

Weight Loss: Why it Matters and What is Causing It

A multitude of factors can impact your loved one’s appetite and motivation to eat. Aging naturally impacts your loved one’s weight due to changes in their metabolism. However, someone living with Alzheimer’s loses on average 1.2 pounds per year, compared to .6 pounds among those who have not been diagnosed with the disease. If their favorite sitcom is on in the background, that could take priority over the meal. If they are experiencing mobility issues, using utensils could be too complicated and lead to anxiety, stress, and embarrassment. These are just a few examples that can impact your loved one’s appetite and how you’re able to create interest in food.

Identifying changes in your loved one’s appetite and discussing behavioral changes with their doctor can be life-saving. Your loved one is living with a disease that causes uncommon variations within their body. Conditions such as depression, diabetes, constipation, swallowing difficulties, and dental issues, are things they may not be able to communicate, while at the same time being the primary reason behind lack of eating. Pay attention to their behavior and body language, since it will allow you to determine what a particular action means and make it easier to pass the information along to a doctor. As you work to identify and eliminate the environmental factors that cause your loved one to not focus on their meal, you’ll notice their interest in food begin to grow.

Eat Healthy

As you read online about nutrition, you’ll learn that there are specific foods recommended for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alzheimer’s and nutrition research will advise you to remove foods in your loved one’s diet as well as introduce others. Ultimately, the most important thing is that your loved one is eating. Once you’re able to create an environment that is safe and comfortable for your loved one that leads them to eat, the factors that previously impeded their focus will be back of mind. The priority is to find a food menu that is satisfactory for your loved one, rather than to hit specific food groups.  As long as they are eating, maintaining a healthy weight, and their doctor is content with their overall wellness, this is the best strategy.

Weight Gain: What to Expect, What is Normal, and What to Consider

The progression of Alzheimer’s is going to cause your loved one’s taste buds and cravings to change, so it is important to adapt their diet accordingly. Weight fluctuations are normal for aging adults because of metabolic adjustments, medications, and activity levels. Keeping that in perspective is important.

There are a few things to consider if your loved one has recently started to put on a few pounds, and these are not a cause for worry. If they have recently made a transition to an assisted living and memory care community or started working with a caregiver, it could be a factor leading to weight gain. The cause of this is likely because your loved one is eating on a defined schedule with specific nutritional requirements. If your loved one was living alone and unsupervised, they may have not been eating enough to calorically satisfy their needs. There is no need to worry if they are being counseled by a nutritionist and supervised by staff.

Weight gain comes with a few added risks to aging adults, including those living with Alzheimer’s. As weight increases, the body produces more insulin, which can interfere with the way our brain supplies energy to the rest of the body. For someone living with Alzheimer’s, chronically high insulin levels can impact long-term memory. Weight gain should be a concern if your loved one has maintained a high weight for a prolonged period of time and a doctor has advised action to be taken.

Doctor with Patient

If you’re worried about the weight that your loved one has put on, talk to their doctor about their medications, approved activities, and other ways to help support their overall wellness. They could be on medication that is inhibiting them from metabolizing their food properly.  If your loved one lives in a community, encourage them to participate in activities such as crafts, wellness activities, or social activities. This will improve their mental wellness, which will help support their overall health moving forward.

In Summary:

During each stage of Alzheimer’s, your loved one may change the way that they approach food. Take the time to understand what is causing the change and how to support them, since it will help them maintain their weight and appetite. As time goes on, you’ll begin to notice changes that are more than a meal plan can fix.

This blog post is an introduction and non-comprehensive overview of how you can help your loved one who has Alzheimer’s with nutrition. If you believe that your loved one may have Alzheimer’s or dementia, or is experiencing issues with nutrition, reach out immediately to your licensed healthcare professional. If you have a life threatening emergency, call 9-1-1.