Weight loss is a common problem among people with neurocognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In earlier stages, likely causes are reduced appetite and forgetting to cook/eat.
Later on, difficulty swallowing and reduced recognition of food can play a role.
Weight loss can also be caused by medication side effects.
Less commonly, weight loss is due to other underlying medical conditions.
There are six strategies that caregivers can use to help loved ones maintain their weight.
1. Promote regular physical activity – such as walking and lifting weights, can improve mood, appetite, and maintenance of a normal sleep-wake cycle.
2. Offer high-calorie snacks throughout the day – such as yogurt and protein shakes, can provide an extra boost of much needed calories.
3. Set up a mealtime routine – may include hand washing or music, as well as a visually pleasing table, will help indicate to loved ones (and their subconscious) that a meal is coming, which, in turn, promotes increased appetite and oral intake.
4. Consider the senses – use colorful plates that contrast with the colors of the food can increase oral intake. Additionally, offering a variety of healthy and colorful foods adds additional stimulation to promote engagement with the meal. Sensory-rich experiences also can help caregivers communicate with elderly patients with dementia.
5. Plan social meals for you and your loved one – evidence suggests that older adults eat more when they are in the company of others.
6. And most importantly, be patient – allow plenty of time for un-rushed and relaxed mealtimes and snack times.
Depending on the cause of weight loss, goals of care, and treatment preferences, some caregivers elect to use appetite stimulating medications to help fend off weight loss. Common choices include mirtazapine and cannabis / THC.
Oftentimes, continued weight loss, even after implementation of the strategies above, is only one symptom of major neurocognitive disorder and may signify an overall decline in physical and mental health.