Eating a balanced diet is important for all individuals, not only those with Alzheimer’s disease. However, this may be more important for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, as poor nutrition can result in the worsening of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
A balanced diet contains a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and adequate fluids. Fruits and vegetables should make up approximately half of your loved one’s daily nutritional intake.
This can be in the form of fresh, frozen, or even canned fruits and vegetables. The other half of your loved one’s diet should consists of grains and proteins, such as beans, fish, and high fiber fortified grains.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, it can become more difficult for your loved one to maintain healthy eating habits due to decreased appetite, inability to recognize food, or difficulty swallowing.
Below is a checklist highlighting some ways to help your loved one maintain his or her nutrition, even if these eating difficulties are present.
Checklist: Maintaining nutrition with eating and swallowing difficulties
– Serve bite-sized portions of foods that are easy to pick up and consume, which will also make chewing and swallowing easier.
– Grind foods, when possible, to make them easier to swallow.
– Serve soft, nutritious, foods such as applesauce, cottage cheese, canned fruits, and scrambled eggs.
– Prepare foods that have high nutritional value, but can be blended, including fruit or vegetable smoothies, pureed vegetables, and whipped potatoes.
– Avoid serving foods that could be difficult to chew completely, and/or that pose a choking risk. Some examples of this would be raw fruits or vegetables, which could instead be steamed, pureed, or both.
– Keep meals small and increase their frequency; for example, in place of three large meals a day, try five or six smaller meals throughout the day.
– Thicken liquids and soups to make them easier to swallow. This can be done by adding unflavored gelatin or food thickeners.
– If your loved one’s sense of taste begins to be diminished, try to add natural sweeteners, such as honey, to food in order to make the food more appealing.
– Add strong spices to food to enhance its taste, but avoid adding too much salt as it can cause water retention and dehydration.
– Serve soft fruits and vegetables as snacks, such as bananas, peaches, oranges, and cooked vegetables.
– Prepare thickened soups and stews that contain large portions of vegetable, dairy, and grain products, as this will make it easier to get the most nutrition out of a single, easy to eat, meal.
– Serve soups and stews in a mug rather than a bowl so that your loved one does not have to struggle with using a spoon.
– Serve foods that are liquid-based, as this can be very helpful in avoiding your loved one becoming dehydrated.
– Serve bite-sized pieces of melons, watermelon, and citrus fruits, as these fruits contain a lot of water, are nutritious, and are easy to chew.
– Prepare meats that are easy to chew, such as pulled pork, chop meat, or shredded chicken. Steak or thicker cuts of beef or chicken can become tough and difficult to chew and swallow, thus posing a choking risk.
In addition to consuming adequate calories, your loved one needs adequate hydration. Dehydration can lead to confusion, illness, and even pneumonia. Typically, most individuals believe that they need to drink 8 8-oz. glasses of water a day to stay hydrated, and while that is not bad advice, staying hydrated is a bit more complex than that.
In reality, men should drink 13 cups of beverages a day, and women should drink 9 cups of beverages a day. However, this may be modified by several factors. For example, if you are exercising a lot or it is hot outside, then you will need to increase your fluid consumption to replace what is lost through sweating.
Water is, of course, the best beverage to consume to stay hydrated, but some individuals have a hard time drinking water. If that is the case for you or your loved one, many foods and beverages contain water and can help keep you hydrated.
In addition to water, beverages that can help keep you hydrated include coffee, tea, juice, milk, and sports drinks. Some fruits, such as watermelon, are primarily composed of water and can help prevent dehydration.
Fruits, such as lemons, limes, oranges, grapes, or grapefruit, can be added to plain water to provide additional flavor. Fruit juices—preferably those made from 100% juice with little to no artificial sweeteners—can also be added to water to make it a bit sweeter.