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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

LeBlanc: when loved ones with dementia refuse to eat

Common Sense Caregiving


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If you are caring for a loved one with a dementia related disease, it is likely a time will come during the latter stage when they will lose their desire to eat. One of the causes of this may be that their body no longer recognizes the signs of hunger.

Throughout the many years I cared for my dad with Alzheimer’s disease, one of the more successful ways I found to keep him consuming those all-important nutrients was for us to sit down at the table and have our meals together. If I tried to multi-task and do other chores during dinnertime, I always would came back to see him sitting in front of an untouched plate.

On the other hand, when I would sit at the table with him and initiate a normal dinner conversation, the food on his plate magically would disappear.

Another thing that helped was keeping breakfast, lunch and dinner on a strict daily routine. Every time he would tell me, “I just ate an hour ago,” I would point at our kitchen clock and remind him that we always ate supper at 6:00 p.m. I also found that keeping the dinner table set in the same pattern had a calming affect. I’d have his silverware arranged the exact same way for every meal. Even If he just was having a bowl of soup his steak knife was placed at his left.

There are other reasons for this lack of food intake. Many times problems with vision can occur with dementia. For instance, if you should notice that they are only eating half of the food on their plate, try rotating it 180 degrees and see if they finish the remainder of the meal. Another avenue to explore is using contrasts and bright colors. Sometimes using colorful dishes helps them focus better on what they’re doing. White plates blending into a white tablecloth possibly could be too mundane.

One of the most important battles you must win is keeping them hydrated! This can be a tough one, no doubt, but there are a few ways to avoid a clash. For instance, a glass of water may take an entire day to disappear, but a bowl of cereal or a cup of soup may be an easier way to get down some fluids. Here again the buddy system seems to help; drink something along with them.

Let’s not always be quick to blame everything on the dementia. It’s possible that their teeth hurt. Try to take a look inside their mouths to see if there is any redness or bleeding. Early in their diagnosis, get them to the dentist. There is no question that cooperation in a dentist chair will become more difficult the farther they advance into the disease.

When it comes to food, be prepared to hear know-it-alls scold you, claiming you should only be feeding these loved ones something that is very nutritional. As I recall, during the end stage of my dad’s disease, if all he wanted was a bowl of ice cream, then he got a bowl of ice cream! I was ecstatic to get that inside of him — sugar and all!

For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at

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