Specialized Dining Programs

For people caring at home for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias, the condition may change mealtimes from enjoyable experiences to stressful undertakings. It could become increasingly difficult to convince a loved one to eat, stay at the table, or even sit. Experts with Brookdale say addressing logistical and environmental factors can go a long way toward solving the problem.

“Many aspects of dining that go almost unnoticed by people without dementia can be real obstacles for those living with the disease,” said Joska Hajdu, Brookdale’s senior vice president of dining services. Brookdale’s Alzheimer’s dining program was designed by specialists in dementia care, culinary arts and nutrition, who focused on identifying and addressing those challenges. A number of Brookdale’s approaches can be adopted by family caregivers, according to Hajdu, who offers the following suggestions:

  • Use contrasting table settings: Dementia can affect depth perception, making it difficult to differentiate plates and bowls from the surface they are sitting on. “That’s why our dementia dining program uses contrasting colors, so that dishes stand out from the tablecloth,” said Hajdu. “This is an easy practice for caregivers at home to adopt and is very helpful.”
  • Make foods easy to distinguish: “We also ensure that foods stand out on the plate from one another,” he said. “We wouldn’t pair chicken breast with mashed potatoes and corn. Redskin potatoes and broccoli would be a better choice.”
  • Provide easy-to-use tableware: It may be difficult for a person with dementia to use a fork to maneuver food off a flat plate. “It can be better to provide a spoon and serve meals in a shallow bowl so he or she can scoop the food using its edge,” he said.
  • Keep table settings simple: Too many items and decorations can distract and confuse. “But at the same time, you do want to create an inviting environment that helps make eating enjoyable,” said Hajdu. “A simple vase with a few flowers adds that graceful touch without creating possible confusion. Stay away from decorations, such as bowls of artificial fruit that could be perceived as edible.”
  • Create a pleasant ambience: Loud noise, a room that is too hot or cold, a chair that is no longer comfortable – caregivers should consider whether any of these factors may be deterring their loved one from coming to the table or staying seated long enough to eat.

“Taking these steps to create a dementia-friendly dining environment at home can make eating easier and more successful for the loved one with dementia and more enjoyable for everyone,” Hajdu said.

Protect clothing with dignity: “Sometimes caregivers place bibs on their loved ones to keep them from spilling food on their clothing,” said Juliet Holt Klinger, M.A., Brookdale’s senior director of dementia care. “The intention is good, but it’s not really a dignified way for an adult to eat. Wearing a bib can affect self-esteem and create the perception among the people around them that they have become child-like.” Holt Klinger oversaw Brookdale’s design and use of dining scarves for its dementia care residents. Made of attractive fabrics in a variety of floral patterns and stripes, they bear no resemblance to a bib and protect clothing in a dignified, stylish manner. Family caregivers could make a dining scarf at home; they could use also roomy shirts that fit over their loved one’s clothing for the same purpose.