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Persons living with dementia may sometimes refuse to eat. They may become angry, agitated, or challenging to feed during mealtimes. This can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Disliking the food
  • Feeling rushed
  • Feeling uncomfortable with people or the environment
  • Feeling frustrated with the difficulties they are having

It can be challenging to identify what the actual problem is, particularly if they have difficulties communicating. It is important to remember that these reactions are not deliberate.

Try not to rush your loved one or pressure them to eat and drink quickly. Instead, look for non-verbal cues such as body language and eye contact as a means of communication. Wait until they are calm and less anxious before proceeding with the meal.

What You May Observe & Suggested Strategies to Prevent This

Refusing feeding attempts, spitting out food

• Check their mouths for ulcers or poor dental health as these can be painful
• Encourage independence when eating or drinking; gently place your hand over theirs to guide the cutlery to their mouth if they are unable to self-feed
• Offer familiar or favourite food and drinks
• Make the food look and smell appealing — prepare food with different tastes, colours and aromas
• Use familiar utensils
• Ensure that the temperature of the food served is appropriate

Eating very quickly

• Supervise the meal and use verbal and non-verbal prompts, e.g. prompt them to chew before swallowing
• Gently place your hand over theirs to control their feeding rate
• Cut up their food into smaller pieces to reduce the risk of choking

Distracted during mealtimes/ not attentive to eating

• Have a minimalistic table set-up
• Ensure that there are minimal distractions, e.g. quiet and calm environment, or fewer people
• Play calm and soothing music in the background during mealtimes
• Ensure appropriate and adequate lighting

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Downloadable Resources

The following resources contain bite-sized information on The ABCDs of Dementia Progression that you may download and/ or print: 
Click on the images below to download in English.

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