How to help your loved ones with Alzheimer’s when they refuse to eat

People with dementia still need nourishment. Here are tips to help them get it.

Ray Burow avatar

by Ray Burow |

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Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Defining it and its causes, however, is complicated. Researchers in Toronto at the University Health Network’s Krembil Brain Institute, for instance, suggest that Alzheimer’s is not primarily a brain disorder, but instead more of an autoimmune disease. Other theories exist, as well.

However, we can all agree that Alzheimer’s negatively affects cognitive activity and changes behavior over time. If you have a loved one diagnosed with the disease, you’ll begin to notice changes, even in aspects of their personality. Sometimes, your loved one may seem like a different person.

The challenge we caregivers face is to remember that our loved ones living with Alzheimer’s are still here with us. Though we must deal daily with their altered state, they’re the same on the inside as they were before the condition took its toll.

No two people are alike, and the actions and experiences of those with Alzheimer’s aren’t exactly the same. What my mother experienced with the disease and what our family experienced with her won’t perfectly match the experience you’ve had, are having, or will have with your loved one. Yet there are some similarities we can expect across the board, and we must learn to work through those issues.

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Meeting your loved one’s basic needs

The daily needs of your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease haven’t changed. What may have changed, however, is their desire for those needs to be met.

Food, rest, exercise, and hygiene are essential to good health, for instance. But providing each of these necessities can be difficult if someone with dementia isn’t cooperating with caregivers. Refusing to eat, for instance, can become a tug of war between the caregiver and the person needing the care.

The following tips may help keep your relationship intact.

It’s time to eat?

You might think that if someone is hungry, they eat. Perhaps, but perhaps not. A person with dementia might not recognize the feeling of hunger. Just imagine losing control of when you eat; a person with dementia, either consciously or unconsciously, may resent that they’ve lost the opportunity to make those choices. Caregivers, in planning meals and healthy in-between snacks, can help restore some control by offering simple choices and involving their loved ones in the process.

It’s doubtful that someone in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease can help prepare dinner, but involve them to the degree they can engage. If your loved one loves green beans and mashed potatoes, try to make it a topic of conversation. My mother was an avid and accomplished cook before the disease took away her ability. Still, we could talk about food. I’d remind her how she made something delicious and even ask if she diced the potatoes before boiling or cooked them whole.

Depending on the given day, she may or may not remember if she was or wasn’t a good cook. Cognitively speaking, she probably didn’t remember, but talking about the act of cooking and her love for it triggered something akin to muscle memory, and she’d respond.

While serving her plate, I could also answer, “Oh, I made these mashed potatoes just how you made them and exactly how you like them.” A basic, simple, and even one-way conversation may prompt your loved one to dig in. Once they’re eating or you’re helping them to eat, ask, “Does it taste as good as we thought it would, or not?”

Loving acts go a long way

Eating wasn’t an issue for my mother until her late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It was then difficult for her to feed herself or use the utensils, and she easily lost interest. But we still spoke with her about the food she liked and didn’t like and made all of the foods she once enjoyed.

Before the disease, for instance, she loved crab cakes, and I suppose she did after her diagnosis, too. She didn’t marvel over them as before the illness, but I kept making them, assuming they still caused her taste buds to dance.

If you and your loved one are facing a specific challenge, please leave a comment about how you’re meeting it. Your words could be helpful to another reader.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


Todd Graham avatar

Todd Graham

MapHabit has demonstrated that it improves quality life and activities of daily living including better eating while increasing the independence of the caregiver. Using visual maps which can feature the person LWD and the caregiver is taps the procedural memory and thus can help them with such things as eating, dressing, brushing teeth, bathroom habits etc. To learn more go to


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