There are no specific foods that are best for a person with dementia. The best foods are those that appeal to the individual’s dietary and nutritional needs.

People with dementia and their caregivers can work with a healthcare professional to ensure that their nutritional needs are met.

This article describes how dementia can affect a person’s nutritional intake and outlines examples of food they can eat based on their individual dietary needs. It also offers tips on how to help people with dementia to eat.

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A healthy and nutritious diet is essential to maintaining a person’s mental and physical health and well-being at every stage of the disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, poor nutrition can lead to the following issues in those with dementia:

People in the middle to late stages of dementia may have difficulty maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet due to the following reasons:

  • feeling overwhelmed by the different food options available
  • forgetting to eat or thinking that they have already eaten
  • being unable to recognize when they are hungry or full
  • being unable to recognize certain foods
  • finding that foods do not smell or taste as good as they once did
  • experiencing difficulties handling cutlery or feeding themselves
  • experiencing difficulties chewing or swallowing food
  • experiencing a lack of appetite due to:
    • insufficient exercise
    • medication side effects
    • poorly fitting dentures

Some people with dementia develop malnutrition and weight loss. Some reasons for this include:

  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing foods
  • mouth pain or dental issues
  • infections
  • constipation
  • depression

Foods to help boost appetite or weight gain include:

  • Skimmed milk powder: Adding skimmed milk powder to pureed foods or beverages, such as full fat milk, can help boost their calorie content. Some milk powders also contain added vitamins and minerals.
  • High-nutrient, high calorie meal supplement drinks: A person can ask the doctor or dietitian about the potential benefits of prescription meal supplement drinks.
  • Adding high calorie foods to meals: According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), adding the following high calorie foods to meals can help to promote weight gain:
  • Offering milk- or fruit-based puddings: According to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), these food options can provide additional nutrients. Examples include:
    • stewed fruit with custard or rice pudding
    • fruit and ice cream
    • tinned fresh fruits

Some people with dementia may be prone to weight gain or obesity. Some reasons for this include:

  • the inability to recognize the feeling of being full
  • forgetting having recently eaten
  • developing a craving for sugary foods, which is more common among individuals with frontotemporal dementia

Foods that may help to manage cravings and maintain a healthy weight include:

  • Fruits and low calorie Jell-O: These foods may help satisfy a person’s cravings for sweet foods without adding unnecessary sugar or calories to the diet.
  • Sweet condiments: Adding small amounts of sweet condiments to savory foods can help to satisfy sugar cravings. Examples include:
    • ketchup
    • apple sauce
    • chutneys
  • High protein foods: Protein-rich foods can help boost satiety and prevent overeating. Examples include:

People with chewing or swallowing difficulties may find eating soft or pureed foods easier. Soft foods can include:

  • mashed potato, with butter and milk for additional nutrients and calories
  • bread dipped in soup
  • tinned vegetables
  • smoothies
  • soft, lean meats cut into bite-sized pieces
  • flaked fish with no bones
  • stewed fruits

If a healthcare professional recommends pureed foods, it is important to remember that these can appear bland and unappetizing. When preparing pureed meals, a caregiver can try the following:

  • prepare each item of food separately and place them on a preheated plate
  • ensure the food is sufficiently seasoned
  • adding cream, butter, or skimmed milk powder to enhance flavor and calorie intake

Caregivers can ask the doctor or dietitian about meal supplement drinks that are high in nutrients and calories.

Below are some tips that may help individuals with dementia to eat.

  • Using adapted cutlery: Adapted cutlery may feature soft cushioning or finger indentations to help with grip. They may also be weighted or have a nonconventional shape that helps with usage.
  • Using plain-colored plates: White or plain-colored plates can help people differentiate the food, making it easier to eat.
  • Offering finger foods: Handheld foods remove the need for utensils, helping a person maintain independence and dignity when eating.
  • Offering colorful foods: Brightly colored foods can be more visually appealing and easier to identify.
  • Offering flavorful foods: Spices and herbs can add flavor to food while limiting the need for salt and sugar.
  • Offering appropriately-textured foods: People with chewing and swallowing difficulties may prefer foods with a softer texture. Those who prefer chopped or pureed foods may require some assistance while eating. When deciding on food textures, one must consider the textures a person finds most appetizing.
  • Involving the person in meal preparation and cooking: For people with dementia, participating in meal preparation can boost a sense of autonomy and independence. They may enjoy sitting in the kitchen while another cooks or helping with small tasks, such as setting the table or folding napkins.

Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about dementia and eating.

What foods can help fight dementia?

It is not clear whether a particular diet can help to fight dementia. However, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) explains that researchers are currently investigating whether a diet called the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet may help to prevent or delay dementia.

The diet aims to lower high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for dementia.

According to the NIA, research suggests that the MIND diet may help with cognitive function, but further research is necessary to confirm these effects. Moreover, it is not clear whether the diet is helpful for those with dementia.

Are bananas good for dementia?

A 2022 review explains that bananas and other plantain fruits have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and neuromodulatory properties that may help to protect against neurological disorders, including dementia.

The researchers explain that the bioactive compounds of interest are contained within both the banana pulp and peel.

Further research is necessary to determine whether bananas can help protect against dementia and whether they are beneficial for people with dementia.

Why might those with dementia not want to eat?

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, people with dementia may not want to eat due to the following:

  • changes in the way foods taste or smell
  • difficulty communicating likes and dislikes
  • difficulty recognizing hunger
  • anxiety about eating
  • difficulties using cutlery
  • difficulties chewing or swallowing food
  • reduced motivation and concentration

Is baby food suitable for those with dementia?

Soft foods can be preferable for some people with chewing or swallowing difficulties.

Baby food may be suitable as a snack. However, it is unlikely to provide sufficient nutrients for older adults to maintain a balanced diet. Instead, a caregiver may opt for soft foods or pureed foods.

People in the middle to late stages of dementia may have difficulty meeting their nutritional needs. Some people may develop symptoms that cause them to lose weight, while others may develop symptoms that cause them to gain weight.

The healthiest foods are those that help an individual to achieve their optimal weight and nutritional needs.

Foods that can assist weight gain are high in calories and added nutrients, such as dairy, nuts, seeds, and meal replacement drinks.

Foods that can assist weight loss are those that promote satiety and enhance flavor without the need for additional salt, sugar, and calories. Examples include fruits, sweet condiments, and high protein foods.

Caregivers can also consider ways to help individuals with dementia eat or feel more independent during meal times. Examples include offering finger foods, providing adaptive cutlery, and involving the person in meal preparation.