Eating can become a very real problem for someone with dementia. There is the reduced appetite, swallowing problems, and unwillingness to lift a fork. A year ago Jim weighed 200 pounds. Twelve months later he weighed 150. Having lost one quarter of his body weight, he was wasting away before my very eyes. I talked to Jim’s doctors about it on every doctor’s visit, but there was no easy answer. I was feeling very helpless and unsure of what to do.
There was the basic issue of Jim not wanting to feed himself. He would stop using his utensils after about 5 minutes of eating and just set them down. And what Jim mostly ate was ice cream and anything else with sugar. His diet was so bad we stuffed him full of gummy vitamins (more sugar) to try and compensate. I had always heard that taste diminishes for the dementia patient, but heavily flavored foods like sweets remain appealing. I thought I had no choice but to feed him what he wanted, or he would starve to death.
I thought I had no choice but to feed him what he wanted, or he would starve to death.
As a starting point I decided to feed Jim when he stopped feeding himself, and he readily took the food from me. We would get a few stares when I fed him in restaurants, but after a week or so that didn’t faze me anymore.
I also put a lot of effort into his meals. I’ve always considered myself just an average cook, but I had to step up my game to entice Jim to eat. It’s not that he wouldn’t “eat his peas” anymore, but the peas had to be fresh and tasty. No canned peas for Jim. I became very selective about the recipes I used and asked for a lot of advice on the best take–out restaurants.
About this same time I heard a radio program on the relationship between sugar, inflammation and dementia. Current thinking is that sugar causes cellular inflammation, and cellular inflammation is a cause of dementia. Good grief! I realized Jim was in trouble now with all the sugar he was consuming. After consulting with a functional medicine doctor, we switched Jim to a no-sugar, high–fat diet (good fats like butter and olive oil).
The real breakthrough came when the medicine Jim takes to reduce anxiety and control moods was substantially reduced. His appetite roared back and he started eating like a 6’ 1” male again. He has now gained 10 pounds and his healthy diet has helped him quickly regain strength and muscle.
I intend to share more about what we’ve learned regarding the connection between diet and dementia. Jim still has a way to go to get back to where he needs to be weight wise, but he now walks up steps with confidence and can beat me arm wrestling again! That feels like a major victory after the year we just had.