If you're the caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, you may find meeting their nutritional needs to be one of your biggest challenges. It isn't that Alzheimer's patients have specific dietary needs – as long as they're physically healthy, they need about the same amount of calories and the same types of nutrients as anyone their age. The problem is that Alzheimer's patients can be difficult to feed. They may suffer from loss of appetite or an inability to sit still long enough to eat. They may also forget how to eat neatly and safely. If they had special dietary needs before developing Alzheimer's, like food allergies or a sugar-free diet, they may forget to account for these needs. Here are a few tips for making sure that your loved one with Alzheimer's is eating properly.

Embrace Finger Foods

Particularly in the early stages of Alzheimer's, wandering is a common behavior. Your patient may pace around one room or wander in and out of different rooms for hours on end. Assuming that the patient is ambulatory and the area is secured so that they can't wander outside and get lost or hurt, it's safe to allow them to walk around. However, you will still want to make sure they get the calories they need to sustain all of this activity.

For wandering patients, foods that can be picked up and carried around are ideal. Orange segments, apple slices, carrot sticks, and chicken nuggets are all good options if your loved one can chew them. Also, remember that nearly anything thing can be put between two slices of bread. Does your patient need more protein in their diet? Make them a tuna sandwich or make a sandwich out of a slice of last night's meatloaf. Want to encourage them to get more dairy? Make them a grilled cheese and add a slice of tomato to make it a little healthier. Sandwiches are portable and easy to eat while walking.

Minimize Distractions At The Table

When your patient will sit at the table to eat, it's important to ensure that their focus is on the food. It's very easy for an Alzheimer's patient to get distracted by things that aren't food and forget to eat entirely. They may also try to eat non-food items.

Turn off the television, and clear the table of centerpieces or clutter before serving a meal. Season the food in the kitchen and keep salt and pepper shakers or sugar dispensers off the table as well. Serve yourself at the same time you serve your patient – that way you can model eating while allowing the patient the independence to feed themselves. Don't worry if your previously fastidious loved one becomes a messy eater. The important part is that they get the food they need – you can always clean up when they're finished eating. Trying to clean up in the middle of the meal is likely to get the patient off-track.

You may notice that your loved one has less of an appetite than they used to. Be flexible – break the usual three meals into six smaller, shorter meals, and prepare their favorites as often as possible. They're more likely to focus and enjoy the meal if you're serving food they like and they don't feel overstuffed.

Keep Unsafe Items Out Of Reach

If there are foods in the house that the patient shouldn't have – sugary items for diabetics, hard foods for patients with swallowing problems, or allergenic foods for patients with allergies – you'll have to keep them out of reach at all times.

Common childproofing tools, like latches for kitchen cabinets and refrigerator locks, are also handy for houses where Alzheimer's patients live. It will take a little extra effort on your part, but it's worth it to prevent a dangerous accident.

Caring for a patient with Alzheimer's is difficult and sometimes exhausting work. If you're having trouble making sure that your loved one is getting a balanced diet, talk to their doctor about getting some extra help. You may qualify for assistance like in-home nursing services or respite care.