Dementia at the Dinner Table

During the latter stages of dementia related diseases, our loved ones will need more and more assistance at the dinner table. The first problem I ran into with my father was getting him just to eat . . . period.

After several attempts, I soon discovered that the only way I could get him to finish a meal was if I sat at the table with him.  The upside of this was that we enjoyed our dinner time together, as a family. It was also helpful to keep a casual conversation going with him while we ate.

Keeping two family photo albums on the kitchen table at all times was a perfect redirectional tool. This gave me time to do the cooking while Dad was content to sit nearby. Sliding an album directly in front of him proved to keep his anxiety under control, also preventing him from becoming impatient. When he finished eating, I would remove his plates and place those old photographs right back in front of him again, giving me time to clean up and finish my chores.

As his disease progressed I began to notice other dilemmas. For instance, he would only eat the food on the right side of his plate. I learned to turn his plate 180 degrees and this immediately solved the problem.

We also need to pay close attention to the colors and designs of the table settings.  We shouldn’t serve meals on white plates on top of a white tablecloth.  We’re better off using red plates and bright colored glassware.

Have you noticed your loved ones having problems with using the silverware? Good news! There are specially designed utensils available now. One product that comes highly recommended is called a “Knork.” It’s basically a fork and knife built in to one, naturally curved to fit the hands better. Then again, finger foods were also another big winner at our table.

Unfortunately, difficulty with swallowing will eventually become a problem. Keep a close eye on this. It could be one reason why they’re not eating what you’re serving on their plates. Be prepared to adapt to changes.  They will come frequently and sometimes suddenly.

Be prepared; you are going to hear from every so-called expert telling you that you must provide only nutritional foods. Well, I am here to tell you that I got to the point where, if my dad wanted ice cream for dinner or even a bowl of cereal, I was thrilled to death to get even those foods inside of him.

If you’re worried about dehydration, a bowl of soup may be the perfect answer. Use your own judgment and maybe a little imagination. Concentrate on keeping them hydrated with something in their bellies.

Hopefully you’ve already sat down and discussed their end-of-life decisions with them. If not, this should be addressed a.s.a.p. It’s horrifying to have to make end-of-life decisions such as having feeding tubes inserted and other drastic measures of putting off the inevitable. Personally, I took one look at my dad and I knew he had fought long and hard enough.

Make a concerted effort to get all the hard choices out of the way early so you can enjoy as many long and pleasant dinners as possible. I truly treasured those times I had at the dinner table with him. They’re some of my fondest memories.