If your loved one has Dementia or a Brain Injury, they may lose interest in eating or drinking or have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). This can make it hard for them to eat and drink safely and get adequate nutrition. It can also make mealtime frustrating and stressful for you as a caregiver. There are many strategies you can use to help make mealtimes successful and safe for you and your loved ones.
Fact: About 45% of people with Dementia have difficulty swallowing, and it becomes more common as Dementia progresses.
38-65% of people have difficulty swallowing post-TBI, regardless of injury severity
Why is mealtime success important?
As a caregiver, you play a crucial role in identifying swallowing problems in your loved ones and helping them eat and drink safely.
Learning new techniques to help your loved one with mealtime is an important step to improving their overall quality of life. These strategies can:
- Help prevent health complications, such as malnutrition, dehydration, weight loss and aspiration pneumonia
- Lower the risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and social isolation
- Enhance the overall experience of mealtime
Tips for meal setting:
- Decrease distractions. Turn off the TV and loud music and instead try listening to instrumental music at a soft volume
- Create a pleasant environment. Speak in a soft, calm voice and eye eye contact. Discuss topics that are familiar to your loved one
- Limit the number of people in the room during shared mealtime to 1-2 people. This will encourage socialising during mealtimes without being overwhelming
- Adjust the lighting. Make sure it is not too dark so your loved one can see their food, but not too bright so that it does not overstimulate them
- Positioning. Your loved one should sit upright in a comfortable chair for as many meals as possible. Correct their posture if they start to slouch
o If in bed, make sure your loved one is upright at a 90 degree angle with their head not tilted backward
o Make sure your loved one stays upright for at least 30 minutes after eating
Tips for assisting with a meal:
- Maintain independence as much as possible. People are at less risk of aspiration when they feed themselves. Offering hand-over-hand assistance, providing adaptive equipment or eating finger foods (if they are still safe) can help your loved one eat more independently
- Use dishes in different colours than the food. When everything is the same colour, it’s difficult to distinguish the food from the dish
- Provide only one food item and one drink item at a time. Choose a familiar food and clear everything else off the table in front of your loved on.
- Be a model. Demonstrate how to eat slowly and do not speak with food in your mouth. If another person is at the table, have this person model it to your loved one as well.
- Feed your loved one slowly. Make sure they have finished their bite before moving on to the next
- Try smaller but more frequent meals and snacks. If your loved one loses attention with a long meal, try 6 small meals a day instead of 3 large meals a day.
- Feed larger meals to your loved one when they are most alert. Schedule heavier meals when they are the most alert
- Use memory aides to remind your loved one of when they will be eating. Create a schedule and routine
Tips for safer swallowing:
- Make sure their mouth is ready. Clean dentures or partial plates and place them in your loved one’s mouth before the meal. Make sure there isn’t excess saliva or phlegm pooled in their mouth. If their mouth is dry, use an artificial saliva substitute
- Alternate liquids and solids, if recommended by your loved one’s medical team
- Check for excess food that may be “pocketed” in the cheeks where foo can get easily stuck
- Incorporate foods that have differing flavours, textures and smells. Smelling a favourite food and stimulate your loved one’s appetite and encourage them to eat. Foods that are extra cold, sweet, sour, spicy or flavour will help them pay attention to the food in their mouth. Your loved one’s Speech Pathologist can also help you with ideas to make foods easier for swallowing, such as pureeing foods or cutting them into bite-sized pieces.
Speak to us today for more information on how we can support you or your loved one eat and drink comfortably and safely, maintain their independence & participate in mealtime more successfully. We look forward to hearing from you and providing you with more personalised strategies specific to your needs and concerns.