When the Patient has Trouble Eating


Three delicious and nutritous protein shakes

Find more food and nutrition tips in my new book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia”–available wherever books are sold.

Elderly people, people who are ill, and especially people with dementia, sometimes have eating difficulties, which can arise for a number of reasons.

  • Some medications affect taste and decrease appetite.
  • Eating might be one of the few things that a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia still has control over. The memory loss individual might refuse food simply because it’s a way of exerting personal power.
  • A new diet that is introduced due to a health concern such as diabetes, or the introduction of pureed food might cause an individual to refuse food.
  • Depression can result in a lack of interest in food.
  • The sense of taste is the last one to go, but it might be diminished along with the sense of smell.
  • Inactivity can cause loss of appetite, so try to engage the memory loss person in some sort of physical activity. Even a stroll around the block helps.

End-stage Alzheimer’s patients almost always have trouble eating, and ultimately most have trouble swallowing. But if the person you are caring for is losing weight for no particular reason and is still mobile, it is a concern that needs to be addressed. Please consult with your physician when there is any question about weight loss and refusal to eat.

12 Tips for Getting Someone to Eat

  1. Finger foods might be easier to manage than a fork and knife.
  2. Eliminate foods that present a choking risk (hotdogs, chicken or fish that contain bones, etc.)
  3. Provide several small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals.
  4. Make the food tasty by including salt, herbs and spices.
  5. Dementia patients love ice cream. If cholesterol is an issue, substitute a dairy ice cream with a non-dairy frozen dessert such as Rice Dream®, Coconut Bliss or Soy Dream.
  6. Offer healthy snacks throughout the day, such as cheese and apple slices, nut butter on apple slices, smoothies, and diced fresh fruit.
  7. Create a soothing ambience by placing flowers and candles on the table, and playing soft classical music.
  8. Make sure to keep the patient hydrated, especially during the hot summer months.
  9. Provide a comfortable place to eat. If the patient has a bad back, it might be necessary to put a cushion on the chair.
  10. Do a happy, engaging activity before mealtime. Have the memory loss person help set the table or peel vegetables, if possible. Painting, listening to music, playing an instrument, or going for a walk might be all it takes to work up an appetite.
  11. It might be hard for the person to differentiate foods on a plate, especially if they are the same color. Use contrasting colors. For example, serve beets and carrots on white instead of white mashed potatoes on a white plate.
  12. Aromatherapy
  • Bergamot is the flavoring used in Earl Grey Tea. If your patient likes to drink tea, this might be an easy solution. Or, have the person smell bergamot oil, which is used for depression.
  • Citrus oils such as orange, lemon and lime along with ylang-ylang can help alleviate depression.
  • Peppermint and Spearmint are energizing and might stimulate appetite.


Protein shake recipes

Protein shakes are nutritious, filling, and nourishing. Use ingredients of your choice without relying on the sugary nutrition drinks that are generously handed out in institutions.

My favorite delicious and easy-to-make shakes

Banana Berry Shake

  • 1 frozen banana
  • ¼ cup sliced strawberries
  • 8 ounces of milk or non-dairy drink such as soy, almond, or coconut milk
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder
  • Blend together until smooth.

Berry Sunrise Shake

  • 1/3 cup frozen blueberries
  • 3 medium strawberries
  • 8 ounces of orange juice
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder
  • Blend together until smooth.

Chocolate, Banana, Peanut Butter Protein Shake

  • 1 banana
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1-cup almond, soy or coconut milk
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 3-5 ice cubes
  • Blend together until smooth


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