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Tips for Increasing Nutritional Intake in the Sensory Seeking Adult

Portrait of elderly senior men

The Problem:

Sam is a 79 year old man with moderate (middle stage) dementia.  He lives in a memory care unit of a facility and rarely sits still.  Sam wanders from room to room touching furniture and collecting knick-knacks in his pocket.  At meal times, Sam is easily distracted and reaches for his neighbor’s cup or the vase or fiddles with the table cloth.  His behavior upsets his tablemates, so the staff placed him at his own table away from everybody else.  Sam is not very interested in the food when his plate is placed in front of him.  He frequently tries to get up, but the caregivers repeatedly remind him to sit and eat.  Sam only eats about 25% of every meal.  He is very thin and boney. 

The Process:

Approaches for improving appetite and nutritional intake in the sensory-seeking dementia person differ from the sensory-avoiding dementia person.  Not sure which one most resembles someone you know?  Sometimes people with dementia have elements of both.

Here are some mealtime sensory preferences common to the busier, restless, sensory-seeking person:

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 7.06.34 AM

The Solution:

Based on sensory behaviors, some of these food items and delivery models may be useful to caregivers.  This is the stuff Sam craves:

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 7.17.22 AM

General recommendations:

  • EAT WITH THEM!  Eating is social behavior.  Don’t watch them eat, seat them alone, or feed them in their rooms.
  • Do not expect him or her to sit through an entire traditional meal.
  • Find ways to “Nutricise” on the go.
  • Use a weighted blanket or vanilla scented wash cloth on hands and face if agitated
  • People with vestibular/balance problems may actually feel motion sickness and not want to eat
  • Drinking is just as important as eating.  Make the liquid count!

Fortify:

The Sensory Seeking folks burn lots of calories.  They also have strong preferences and little patience for actually finishing an entire serving.  It is important to make sure that every bite counts, and that all nutritional requirements for optimal brain and body function are being met.  Real food is always best, but packing extra nutritional value into each bite promotes general health.  And if real food is really difficult to get into the person, consider meal replacement via supplemented smoothies and snacks.

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