We all know mealtimes are an opportunity to boost resident satisfaction and quality of life, but just because a person ages doesn’t mean they should enjoy mealtime any less. In addition to common physical limitations related to aging such as reduced dexterity, strength and declining visual acuity, memory care residents often have additional concerns to address. Staying focused and free from agitation long enough to receive adequate nutrition are essential to a positive dining experience for memory care residents. We’ve identified four broad categories and some commonsense solutions to help you when caring for dementia residents so they can better enjoy the overall dining experience.
1. Atmosphere: Soothe Anxiety
Create a dementia-friendly environment by using memory aids to remind residents about mealtimes. Try a clock with large numbers, an easy-to-read appointment calendar with large letters and numbers or even a daily schedule board.
Once inside the dining room, try to be consistent with furniture placement so memory care residents have an idea of what to expect. Then, throw on some classical or soothing music for a calming effect. Equally important is to avoid overstimulation caused by television, excessive noise or too many people.
By hosting a separate service time for memory care residents, you can give them a calmer, dementia-friendly environment. But when blended dining rooms are in operation, seat memory care residents facing away from other diners to help prevent distractions.
2. Tabletops: Keep it Simple
When caring for dementia patients, it’s essential to keep a very basic table setting and only offer the utensils they will need. That also means avoiding patterned plates and tablecloths as well as minimizing decorations and condiments on the table that might cause unnecessary distraction.
However, creating contrast is still an important part of dining. Many residents suffer from visual impairment so distinction between the food, the plate and tablecloth should be considered. For that, use brightly colored dinnerware, which will help your residents identify where the food is on the plate. In fact, a Boston University study found that “older adults dining from red plates ate 25% more than those dining from white plates.”
What memory care residents eat with can also improve their overall dining experience. You can also increase independence by substituting a bowl for a plate or a spoon for a fork or choosing from assistive dinnerware, mugs and flatware that address some of the physical issues associated with aging. For example, large handles offer a more comfortable grip, weighted utensils keep things more steady, coated utensils protect lips and teeth and two-handed mugs with lids help reduce spills.
3. Menus & Mealtime: Strategy is Important
Residents with dementia are most alert and hungry in the morning, so either serve more food at breakfast or serve several breakfasts. But also be flexible with mealtimes and give plenty of time to eat without being rushed. The time between ordering and serving times should also be minimal – if the food takes too long to serve, residents may forget what they ordered or why they are in the dining room.
In general, a dementia food menu should consist of smaller meals of just one or two foods at a time more often than three large meals a day. Finger foods (think sandwiches, wraps, and fresh fruit and vegetables) allow residents who have lost strength, coordination or dexterity to stay focused on eating instead of getting frustrated over the challenge of managing their flatware. You can even look for creative ways to transform familiar foods into finger foods.
An easy way to increase appetites is to bring enticing aromas into the dining room, such as the smell of coffee brewing and fresh-baked cookies, soups or breads. Additionally, staff can help seniors catch onto the motion of eating by placing the fork or spoon in their hand and help guide the utensil to their mouth or even model the motion you would like them to emulate.
4. Socialization: Get Involved
Just like anyone, feeling involved and part of the conversation can make a big emotional impact for memory care residents. With that in mind, have staff greet residents and engage them in conversation before, during and after meals – even if residents are not able to respond verbally. When possible, sit and eat with residents and offer assistance throughout the meal. Just keep in mind that while staff may be joining the meal, their focus should remain on the residents.
For residents in the early stages of dementia, family style dining offers the chance to reminisce and socialize with each other, making dining a more engaging part of the day. When food will be eaten right away, use lightweight serving pieces to pass around (these dishes are often poorly suited to holding temperatures anyway).
While residents with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other memory care concerns may need extra attention, staff and caregivers can utilize several strategies to help improve their overall dining experience. You can rely on Direct Supply’s foodservice experts for decades of experience in providing guidance and everyday solutions to Senior Living.