Bringing Joy to EATing
FOOD + JOY
Many of us would agree: Eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life. This holds true, if not more so, in nursing homes and memory care facilities where the entire day revolves around eating. Many residents begin their day with a health care worker hurrying them to the dining room to get ready for breakfast. Within a few hours, everyone is preparing for lunch and then an afternoon snack during a group event followed by dinner. In some settings, a late-night snack is also provided.
Dining is a social experience that provides a sense of community, enjoyment and togetherness. It is an integral part of the resident experience and may have a profound impact on the quality of life for many older adults in nursing homes.
Providing innovative approaches in the dining experience for dementia residents is both realistic and attainable. Many individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease (or some form of cognitive dementia) will show similar behaviors when it comes to feeding and eating. There are several things that can be done during meal times to encourage eating and provide a joyful experience for you and your loved one.
Guiding your loved one
Using finger foods with people who have dementia can help preserve dignity, cultivate independence, increase self-esteem and stimulate the desire to eat. Finger foods that are easy to pick up and chew and remind your loved one of positive childhood memories may provide the best outcomes. Slices of bananas, an EAT Bar, cheese cubes, bite size pieces of French toast, cooked carrot coins, finger Jell-O are just a few options you might try.
A child's engagement may be the answer
Consider having a young person join the resident at the table during a visit to a memory care facility. Children will benefit from having opportunities to interact with seniors learning that regardless of age almost everyone enjoys sharing a treat. Even young, children can be valuable helpers in supporting older adults. Enjoying conversation and a snack with a child can be enjoyable and may increase a senior’s desire to eat.
Making eating joyful
The eating experience may also be enhanced by a thoughtful food presentation. In memory care facilities, it may be beneficial to trial a few approaches to see which ones work best for each individual resident. For example, providing meals and snacks on a beautiful plate with a colorful tablecloth could encourage eating. A clean and simple setting may help decrease distractions for another.
Distributing snacks from a cart or tray may promote interaction. Creating a festive occasion or “happy hour” experience can often make residents feel as if they are receiving a special treat. They may be encouraged to get involved simply because they see others participating.
Some individuals may frequently wander throughout the day. I have been surprised to see how many folks will pick up food items and snacks during their day from locations that are not typically associated with dining. It may work to put snacks in window sills or on clothes dressers in their room.
Providing a visual cue of how or when to eat may also be beneficial to some. Showing someone how to eat or providing a mirror during meals and snacks can sometime promote oral intake.
Finally, if possible, it may be effective to reduce noise or provide calm soothing music during meal time or when enjoying a snack. This allows individuals to focus strictly on eating and swallowing.
Say "Yes" to a late-night snack
If your loved one is in need of additional calories is may be helpful to provide a late-night snack. In some cases, people may eat more at night. Often their choice for late night snacking will also be more calorie dense. Because the person will be sleeping after the snack and not up walking around, they may be able to actually reduce the number of calories they’re burning.
There was nothing more rewarding as a speech pathologist than seeing my patients and their families happy. So, when I decided to take the leap and design a snack bar for those with difficulty eating or enjoying food, I specifically thought of those that I served in memory care facilities.
The idea of a delicious treat that provides easy calories and was also easy to chew seemed perfect for this population. It was created to be hand held like a finger food to promote self-feeding. The flavors were bold to help with those who had decreased taste and sensation. The sweetness would help to remind some of them of their childhood. The directive EAT would provide a visual cue so they would know what they were supposed to do.
Author & References
Written by Tia Bagan, MS, CCC - slp (www.theeatbar.com)
Tia is a speech language pathologist and co-founder of Nutraphagia, a health and wellness company whose mission is to bring joy, delight and care to everyone’s every day and the creator of the EAT Bar. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Iowa’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She continued her graduate training at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago Illinois and was fellowship trained at John Stroger Hospital of Cook County. She returned to Rush University Medical Center as a Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer for 5 years. Throughout her 15 years of practice, Tia has provided patient care in the acute care hospital, out-patient, rehabilitation, skilled, and long-term care facilities. Through independent research of dysphagia products over the years, she continued to see a discrepancy between the needs of her patients and the current offerings in the market. Tia is also a member of the American Speech and Hearing Association and has received the ACE award for excellence in continuing education.
“One thing that was confirmed during my years of clinical practice as a speech language pathologist was that for many eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life.”
“Putting Feeding Back into the Hands of Patients” Ford, Ginger RN, Journal of Psychosocial Nursing, 1996, Vol. 34, No. 5
Gray, Nathan “Finger Foods may be the best for people With Alzheimer’s”, 15-Jan-2014 (foodnavigator.com)
“How Dementia Affects One’s Ability to Eat and Caregiver Suggestions to Encourage Eating” Aug 30, 2018 (dementiacarecentral.com)
Meixner, Makayla “Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain?” Oct. 2, 2018 (healthline.org)