It seems that ice cream is the favorite food of most Alzheimer’s patients. It was certainly my husband’s. Sometimes it was the only thing that he found appealing. It’s no wonder: ice cream is cold, slippery and delicious! However, there are lots of healthy frozen desserts available that are low in fat and calories that contain little or no cholesterol. Try Rice Dream®, Coconut Bliss, Soy Dream, or Halo Top. If you have a food processor, puree frozen strawberries or bananas. You won’t even miss the sugar and cream.
Getting adequate nutrition and even the sheer act of eating can be a challenge for both patients and caregivers. Here’s a list of ways to create a tranquil setting, and some easy-to-eat foods to uplift mood and support immunity for everyone.
- Play classical or another type of relaxing music. My husband loved to listen to Nina Simone’s jazzy voice while he ate. Whatever the preference is, play the music softly to create an inviting atmosphere. If your loved one lives in a memory care home, the other residents will probably appreciate the music, as well.
- Light a candle. Set the table with a table cloth and vase of flowers. Beauty, color and light always create a magical, calming effect.
- Aromatherapy oils including peppermint and spearmint are energizing and might stimulate appetite.
- Make the chair as comfortable as possible, especially if the person has a bad back. Place a cushion on the seat and back, if necessary.
- Use soft lighting. Replace glaring light bulbs with a warmer color light bulb, or install a dimmer.
- 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.
- If your patient has trouble using a fork and knife, serve finger foods. Sandwiches cut in quarters or even eighths, pieces of fruit rather than whole fruits, baked potatoes cut into chunks, etc. are easier to manage.
- Use herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt. Herbs and spices have healing benefits. For instance, basil can relieve gas and soothe stomach upsets. Cinnamon has a tranquilizing effect that helps reduce anxiety and stress. It also helps regulate blood sugar. Dill soothes the digestive tract and reduces heartburn. Mint promotes digestion and boosts mental alertness.
- Puree soups such as split pea, potato/leek. cauliflower, and vegetable, and serve with a wide straw, if necessary. This relieves the chore of chewing and helps hydrate as well as nourish the patient.
One of my all-time favorite recipes is for Indian kicheree, also called a “meal in a pot.”
This traditional soup is wonderful during times of stress, stomach upset, and any time the appetite is diminished due to sickness or stress.
4 Tbs organic Basmati rice
4 Tbs mung dal or red lentils
4 1/2 cups water (more or less, depending on whether you like it soupy or thick)
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 cup assorted veggies cut bite-sized (zucchini, yam, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)
1 tsp ground coriander seed
1 tsp ground cumin seed
1/4 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
Combine the rice, dal ginger, veggies and water in pot. Add the spices. Bring to a boil over medium heat; then lower to a simmer for 45-50 minutes. Add water if it gets too thick. Remove from the stove. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper.
10. 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. Bananas, strawberries, blueberries, kale, spinach, peanut butter, coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk, soy milk, and cow’s milk are some of the popular ingredients to try. Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs, rice or peas. The most popular include whey, casein, egg, pea, hemp, brown rice, and mixed plant proteins.
11. Offer healthy snacks throughout the day such as cheese and apple slices, nut butter on apples slices, fresh fruit, humus and carrot sticks.
12. Eggs are my favorite “go to” food for protein. They are easy to eat, can be made in a variety of ways and contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals! Vitamin D for bone health and immune function, lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants important for reducing the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, vitamins B 12 and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, choline, vitamin E, vitamin A, iron, zinc and more. Add pureed veggies for extra vitamins and minerals. Devil eggs are always a hit as a delicious and highly nutritious snack.
For hundreds of other caregiving tips, read “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia”