Why Might Someone with Alzheimer's Refuse to Eat or Drink?
When someone is living with Alzheimer’s disease, or any form of cognitive decline, they may behave differently to how they would have before, which can cause concern to loved ones and caregivers. One of the most concerning ways is the refusal of food or drink, which can have a severe impact on both physical and mental wellbeing.
The reasons that someone may refuse to eat or drink are caused by the changes that are happening in the brain and are often because, as the Alzheimer’s Society tells us, “A person with dementia may struggle to recognise the food and drink in front of them. They may also be unsure how to begin eating.”
What Can Be Done to Help Stimulate Appetite & Thirst?
There are many things that can be done to help someone eat or drink when they’re living with Alzheimer’s, as it may be that they are actually hungry or thirsty but are needing some cues from their caregiver to know how to proceed. There are also many other reasons that can impact a person’s appetite when living with dementia, such as medication side-effects, too much food being put on the plate or even unfamiliarity with the ingredients used. For instance, if a person doesn’t enjoy eating spicy food then they won’t want to eat if the food prepared is very spicy. The same could be said if the food is bland and unappealing, they’re tired or in pain. There are things that can be done to encourage someone to eat and drink though, even if communication is difficult.
How the food is presented can make all the difference to encouraging someone to eat. For instance, if you serve pale-coloured food on a white plate it will be practically impossible for the person to see, due to changes in their eyesight which may have been caused by dementia, so careful planning before presenting food is important. Heavy patterns on tablecloths or plates can also make food ‘disappear’ and can appear as solid objects that the person will try and pick up, further distracting them from the food in front of them.
Show don’t tell
Someone with more advanced dementia won’t be able to respond to being told how to do something, as it’s likely they won’t be able to retain the instructions you’ve just given them, however ‘mirroring’ can be a useful tool that may encourage them to eat and drink with you. Being at eye-level and ensuring that the person can observe you properly is important when communicating with anyone, however if mirroring is to be successful it’s important that you are in front of the person at their eye-line.
If you begin to eat or drink in front of the person and keep eye contact with them while you do it then they may just mirror your behaviour. This is an almost unconscious response in someone who doesn’t have dementia, as we all take visual and behavioural cues from those around us, however for someone living with dementia this can actually help them to temporarily remember how to feed themselves. You will have to go through the technique again at all subsequent meals, yet it is worth trying as it will enable the person to retain some level of impendence.
Encouraging someone to eat or drink is very important, especially if they have limited communication and would find it difficult to ask for something when they wanted it. Liquids should be offered throughout the day to ensure that the person is drinking enough; simply seeing an empty cup next to someone is not enough to be confident that they’re drinking, as they could’ve knocked it over, poured it onto a plant or even let the dog drink it. It’s important to actually witness someone drinking fluids to know they’ve done so, and as discussed above, mirroring can make a difference if the person is unable to remember how to eat or drink.
What Issues Can Be Caused by This?
It’s obvious that not eating or drinking sufficiently can have a negative effect on anyone’s physical and mental health, however when someone is living with dementia it can make their symptoms even more pronounced. As the Alzheimer’s Society tell us, someone with dementia may become dehydrated if they don’t drink enough, which can “lead to headaches, increased confusion, urinary tract infections and constipation” all of which “can make the symptoms of dementia worse.”
How Live-in Support Can Help Manage Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Live-in support in your own home can be an enormous help for someone living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Having someone full-time in your home with you, able to care for you around the clock as well as offer reassurance and encouragement, is beneficial for you and peace of mind for your loved ones. Because Helping Hands have been providing care at home for over 30 years, we really are experts, so you can be confident that you’ll receive the highest standards of care at all times.
Remaining in your own home for care can be the real difference to how well you live with dementia, because staying in familiar surroundings, with people, pets and possessions that mean everything to you, can help to reduce confusion and anxiety. Our private carers are compassionate and empathetic and are trained in dementia care to ensure that they understand how best to support our customers.
Please call our customer care team to learn more about how we can support you or your loved ones living with dementia, alternatively you can contact us via our website and we’ll be happy to call you back.
Page reviewed by Deanna Lane, Senior Regional Clinical Lead on October 12, 2021