Recognizing “The Longest Day”: Alzheimer’s Disease and Mealtime Tips for Caregivers

Today is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  As we celebrate the summer solstice and the year's longest day of sunshine, many people also are coming together to participate in the Alzheimer's Association's "The Longest Day" event. The purpose of the "The Longest Day" is to raise awareness for Alzheimer's care, support and research.  From sunrise to sunset, people of all ages will be engaging in physical activity—such as walking, cooking, meditating and dancing—to honor those living with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation formed a team to recognize The Longest Day. We came together to do a group scavenger hunt of key sights in Washington, D.C.  This was a great way to build understanding, get some physical activity and have fun!

IFIC Foundation group scavenger hunt

In addition, because the IFIC Foundation focuses on nutrition and health communication topics, including brain health, we also want to share some key mealtime insights for our loved ones with the disease on this important day. 

Meals are one of the greatest joys that we share with our loved ones. For people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (5 million in the U.S. and 47 million worldwide) and their caregivers (15.9 million in the U.S.), mealtime can sometimes be difficult because of cognitive and physical challenges. Luckily, there are several strategies to help turn these challenges into opportunities for enhanced connection at mealtimes.

If you’re a caregiver, here are some tips to help:

  • Avoid potential distractions—Mealtime focus is more difficult for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Limit obvious distractions, like TV, phones and internet, for a good first step. Also, try to limit the number and type of items on the table. Centerpieces and other objects might cause him or her to be distracted from the meal.
  • Take your time—People with Alzheimer’s may need more time to chew and eat. Make sure you provide plenty of time for meals and to enjoy the food.
  • Go with the flow—Flexibility is an important skill for caregivers to learn, especially when it comes to mealtimes. Start by preparing nutrient-rich meals that fit with the types of food he or she has typically preferred. But keep in mind that food preferences can change quickly with Alzheimer’s. Be ready to switch gears and serve something else if you need to.
  • Provide mealtime company—Eating together can help everyone have a better experience and has been shown to help people with Alzheimer’s eat more.
  • Encourage independence—Try to help your loved one maintain as much independence as possible. When challenges arise, work with him or her to address them, instead of taking control completely. Incorporate a mix of different verbal and physical cues to encourage eating. These can be as simple as eating along with him or her to demonstrate. Adaptive eating tools are also available to help people with Alzheimer’s eat more independently.

These tips were adapted from Alz.org, where you can find more information on healthy living with Alzheimer’s disease.

By: Kimberly Reed and Liz Sanders