Thursday, January 9, 2020

Familiar Eating Routines for Dementia

Familiar routines, rituals, and food choices can be adapted to the day-to-day needs of a person with dementia. Learn how.

Change can be difficult for a person with Alzheimer's, so preserving familiar routines and rituals, and respecting lifelong preferences and eating habits can make mealtimes easier. Many caregivers have found that maintaining a sense of normality adds to mealtime pleasure, provides reassurance, helps maintain the person’s dignity, increases food consumption, and eases the tension that often arises during mealtimes.

Cynthia Epstein, ACSW, a clinical social worker at the New York University Silberstein Aging and Dementia Research Center, said,
“Follow the person’s normal routine to the extent that you can. That makes the person more relaxed, and because it’s predictable, he or she will feel more in control knowing what’s going on.”
Routines and rituals provide important cues that it is time to eat and trigger the familiar actions involved in feeding oneself. Experts suggest a variety of ways to maintain lifelong habits and routines:
  1. PREFERENCES: Identify and respect personal, cultural, and religious food preferences, such as eating tortillas instead of bread, avoiding pork or milk products, and not liking certain kinds of vegetables.
  2. TIME: If the person has always eaten meals at specific times, continue to serve meals at those times.
  3. PLACE: Serve meals in a consistent, familiar place and way whenever possible.
  4. SPIRITUALITY: If the family has always said a prayer of thanks before meals, continue to say the prayer.
  5. ROUTINE: Avoid introducing unfamiliar routines, such as serving breakfast to a person who has never routinely eaten breakfast.
In time, familiar routines, rituals, and food choices may need to be adapted to meet the day-to-day needs of the person with dementia and to address changes that occur as the disease progresses. For example, a family custom of serving appetizers before dinner can be preserved, but higher-calorie items might be offered to help maintain the person’s weight. Likewise, if the family typically has cocktails before dinner, non-alcoholic drinks can be served to avoid the appetite-suppressing effect of alcohol or other possible safety problems associated with alcohol consumption.

If care is being provided by an aide or other paid professional, the family should educate the caregiver about food preferences and familiar eating routines and rituals. “A baseline for providing good care is knowing the person you’re caring for, but paid caregivers very often are at a loss,” Epstein says. “They don’t know the person unless they’ve worked with him or her for a long time, and family members often don’t know what they need to tell the paid caregiver. This can be very frustrating for everyone.”

“Family members definitely need to communicate with the caregiver about what the person likes to eat, the person’s style of eating, and whether he or she prefers that the caregiver sit down to eat with the person or just serve the food,” Epstein adds. “In this way, the family can empower and direct the caregiver and minimize frustration, which benefits everyone involved.”

Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center, National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health


  1. What do you do when they do not want to eat any more even when we try to feed them?

    1. I give my lady ensure plus with bananas, strawberries and ice cream. She loves it and its also a great way to give meds crushed up. We gave it to her for each meal even when she started eating small amounts of food to keep her weight up. Good Luck and GOD Bless.

  2. Here are a few ideas to encourage eating:

    Watch Teepa Snow demonstrate how to get pills into foods and make foods that are tasty for a person with Alzheimer's:

    Despite the fact that people with dementia often eat regular food, mealtime can still be highly challenging. Check out these 15 great tips for making mealtimes easier and more enjoyable:

  3. Would bite sized finger food be one possibility? Feeling the food and putting it into the mouth might be a basic motion that is still in memory. We didn't have this problem with my mother until very late in her illness, so this is just a thought. Cut sandwiches into small squares, sprinkle with bright yellow shredded cheese to be more colorful? Small meatballs, small scoops of melon, etc.


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