How to Stimulate Appetites for Seniors Suffering from Dementia
Seniors suffering from any of various forms of Dementia often have trouble eating. Keeping them at healthy weights is a difficult task for caregivers, as the progression of these illnesses makes it increasingly harder for patients’ senses to kick in when it comes to ingestion. They may not fully taste meals or even recognize signs of appetite or hunger as the disease stages progress.
So how do we at Insignia encourage seniors with dementia symptoms to eat? We serve dessert first!
Picture this: You’re 7 years old and your mom has just served you dinner. You’re hungry, but the broccoli and carrots on the plate seem less than appetizing. You share your disdain for the dish and your mom says: “If you don’t eat your dinner, you won’t get dessert later!”. So what do you do? You regretfully dig in and eat all those yucky veggies just so you can have some yummy sweets later. Sound familiar?
As adults, we typically learn to appreciate and even like vegetables for their taste and nutritional value, along with a plethora of other healthy foods. But dessert – whether that’s a fruit salad or an ice cream cone – is always a treat to look forward to, even if it’s just on cheat days. And on very special days, just like when we were kids, having dessert first seems like the most delicious way to treat ourselves.
Lisa Myers, our Executive Director at our Savannah Memory Care community, was caring for an ailing 103-year-old woman with a progressed stage of dementia who was refusing to eat. In her last days, Lisa asked her what she wanted to do with her time left. The woman answered “eat my dessert first”, as during her youth, her parents had never allowed her to do so. For her, eating dessert first represented a special moment that she couldn’t remember having enjoyed during her early years. And so, during her last days, she ate her dessert before every meal.
Lisa was in a conundrum at the time. Residents’ weights in the community were down and she was wondering how to stimulate their appetite. She remembered the joy that eating dessert first had brought the 103-year-old resident and after consulting with the house physician whether this was a healthy move, she decided to serve dessert first to the residents who were having a hard time eating or refusing meals altogether. Of course, desserts served would have to be customized per the residents’ health needs. For instance, diabetic seniors would get sugar-free desserts.
To Lisa’s delight, most residents not only ate their dessert, but continued onto eat their regular meals, as their palettes had been stimulated and they were reminded that they were hungry.
Nowadays, Insignia of Savannah always serves dessert first. Residents look forward to meals at the community, as they know that they’ll get to be a little naughty and break the rules that were enforced on them throughout their childhood.
So, if someone in your life is suffering from a dementia related illness and is having trouble eating, give it a try! Serve dessert first.