Strategies to Reduce Unhealthy Weight Loss in People with Alzheimer’s Disease

November 13th, 2019

By: Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC

Proper nutrition can help someone with Alzheimer’s maintain physical strength and balance as well as contribute to overall health and well-being. Without proper nutrition, unhealthy weight loss can occur, which can put the person living with dementia at risk for many negative health outcomes, including falls, medication side effects, and behavioral symptoms.
 
Alzheimer’s Disease cannot be stopped or reversed, but there are things that can be done to improve health and quality of life for those living with dementia. About 5.8 million Americans live with the disease, and by 2050 that number is expected to rise to more than 14 million. 
 
Alzheimer’s affects memory, thinking, learning, organizing skills, and the ability to complete daily tasks. People with Alzheimer’s also may experience weight loss, particularly in the late stages of the disease. As cognitive function declines, your loved one may: 

  • Become overwhelmed with too many food choices
  • Forget to eat
  • Have difficulty using forks, spoons, or knives

When you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, follow these strategies to reduce their risk of weight loss. 
    

Food, Eating, and Alzheimer’s

People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia do not need a special diet. As with anyone, eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is important for their overall health. For your loved one, making every bite a meaningful bite is a good rule to follow. Provide them with foods that are high in protein and calories, as well as food that they can easily chew and swallow. Some examples are:

  • Cottage cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Peanut butter

With a doctor’s recommendation, you can also add protein powder or other supplements to boost nutrients. A bowl of oatmeal with protein powder, flaxseed, butter, and brown sugar are healthy meal options. 
 
It may become more difficult for your loved one to cut food, and they may forget how to use utensils. In these cases, allow them to be as independent as possible, and serve finger foods such as:

  • Chicken tenders
  • Cheese sticks
  • Fish sticks
  • Orange pieces
  • Sandwiches

You can also use adapted serving dishes and utensils to make eating easier. A plate with a slightly elevated rim or a non-skid bowl may be easier for your loved one to use during meals, as the sides of these dishes can make it easier for your loved one to scoop food onto their fork or spoon. You can purchase forks, spoons, and knives with extra-large or built up, weighted handles to make gripping easier.
 
When preparing food, also consider items that are easier to spear or manage. For example, bow-tie pasta may be easier for your loved one to eat than spaghetti noodles as the former can be speared with a fork and the later can easily slide off the utensil and make eating more of a challenge.  
 
In later stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, swallowing problems can lead to choking, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Avoid foods that are difficult to chew or thin liquids. Thin liquids can trickle down your loved one’s throat into the trachea (the breathing tube) vs. the esophagus (part of the digestive system) and cause them to choke more easily than thicker liquids. You can thicken liquids such as water, juice, milk, and soup by adding commercial thickeners that can be purchased at a pharmacy. Liquids that have the consistency of nectar, a milkshake or pudding may be a better option. 
 
Creating a quiet and simple environment can help your loved one with mealtime. These tips from the Alzheimer’s Association can be helpful:

  • Limit distractions. Serve meals away from music, the television, and other diversions.
  • Keep the table simple. Avoid placing extra items on the table. Use only the necessary silverware and plates.
  • Distinguish food from the plate. To help a loved one distinguish food from the plate or the plate from the table, use white plates or bowls with a placemat of a contrasting color.
  • Check the food temperature. Your loved one might not be able to tell if something is too hot to eat or drink. Always test foods and beverages before serving.
  • Serve two or three foods at a time. Too many foods at once may be overwhelming.  Provide only a few items at a time during a meal.

Our Unique Approach to Alzheimer’s Care

To help a loved one living with dementia, family members will benefit from understanding ways to address the mood or behavior changes that accompany this condition. BrightStar Connections is our unique approach to Alzheimer's and dementia care. The lives of our clients are enriched by person-centered care that preserves dignity, provides helpful assistance, and promotes activity in a setting that is comfortable and familiar — their home. Our mission goes beyond just personal safety and care. We understand the importance of establishing and maintaining meaningful connections for your loved one.
 
Our professional caregivers receive additional specialized training to understand how best to connect with those living with dementia. A BrightStar Care registered nurse oversees the care and provides education and support for not only the care team but the client and family as well.
 
Call BrightStar Care® today at 866-618-7827 to learn more about our specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia home care services, or find a location near you.