How do we get dementia patients to eat if they refuse to do so?

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related to an answer for: Why Dementia Patients Stop Eating?

3 Answers

These messages are for mutual support and information sharing only. Always consult your doctor before trying anything you read here.
1. Consider trying finger food if the patient has problems using forks, knives, spoons, etc. Chicken strips, fish stick, hamburgers, and even shrimp fall into this category.

2. Make eye contact while eating. If possible sit directly in front of the patient and make eye contact with him/her and smile before you start eating. Then start eating without talking. Hopefully he/she will follow your lead. Be patient; you might have to do this for a while before it starts working. Get the smile back.

3. Arrange the food on the plate. If the patient is having trouble eating, try less food (portion size), and less items. One or two food choices. In addition, if there is one food the patient really likes, put that on the plate and another food right next to it.

4. Praise the food.

5. Create a positive atmosphere before you eat.

A person with dementia may refuse to eat food or may spit it out. This may be because they dislike the food, are trying to communicate something such as the food being too hot, or they are not sure what to do with the food. The person with dementia may become angry or agitated, or behave during mealtimes in a way that challenges. This can be for a variety of reasons, for example:

  • frustration at any difficulties they are having
  • feeling rushed by the environment they are in or the people they are with
  • not liking the food
  • changed perceptions about mealtimes or the environment - e.g. not eating lunch because they assume they have to pay for it.

They may not want to accept assistance with eating. It can be a challenge to identify what the problem is, particularly if the person is struggling to find the words to explain it. It is important to remember that these reactions are not a deliberate attempt to be 'difficult', or a personal attack.

Try not to rush the person with dementia, and help them maintain as much independence as possible. Look for non-verbal clues such as body language and eye contact as a means of communication. If a person is agitated or distressed, do not put pressure on them to eat or drink. Wait until the person is calm and less anxious before offering food and drink. Knowing about someone's life history, including past routines, may help with understanding any behavior around eating or drinking that seems unusual.

My Nan has had dementia since 2016, and one year she was hospitalized and refused to eat. We were so worried. I was told by the nurse to use some small"tricks", and they worked. We offered different foods and tried something sweet before meals.  We also feed her as often as possible.