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Dementia and Nutrition the Important Role that CNAs Play

Certified nursing assistants play an important role when it comes to nutritional needs of those with different dementias.  As professional caregivers we understand the health dangers of being overweight, but being underweight can pose just as much as a health danger too. 

Often times those who suffer from chronic dementias such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington's Disease have a difficulty in eating well.  Not being able to eat properly can lead to being malnourished.  Malnourishment can cause residents to have low bone density, reduced strength and muscle mass. This is frequently referred to as frailty.  A resident in your care that is underweight is at a greater risk for falls that can result in hip fractures and infections. 

Individuals with dementia will need more and more help with eating as the disease progresses.  Their capability to use eating utensils correctly, chew and swallow food, and to merely sit at a dinning room table can drastically change over the course of their illness.  Certified nursing assistant need to be aware of these changes that occur with dementias. 

Certified Nursing Assistant Dementia Care Mealtime Tips

  • Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s may benefit from having no distractions during meal times.  This is so they can better concentrate on their meal.  Watch for cues, does the resident have difficultly concentrating in a loud dinning room?  Sometime the opposite can be true.  Eating with a group can sometimes encourage those with dementias making mealtimes more enjoyable.  
  • Watch the use of utensils.  Can the resident still use the utensils properly, or are they having difficulty? Those who may have been able to feed their self may no longer be able to do so as the illness progresses. 
  • Watch for problems with swallowing.  Is the resident having difficulty chewing and swallowing their food?  The esophagus muscles in dementia residents are weaker then that of a healthy person.  This can make swallowing difficult.  Which can lead to choking. 
  • Encourage healthy eating.  Although certified nursing assistants don’t have any control on the meals that are being served, they need to be ware of the food that is brought in by family members.  Not all meals are created equal.  The right kinds of foods that are consumed is just as important as the amount.
  • A persons sense of taste and smell decrease with age.  A person with dementia may not be able to verbalize that their food tastes bad. This can also be a result of the medications that they are on.  Its up to the certified nursing assistant to watch for facial expressions.  Most patients dietary cards on the back will have the residents likes and dislikes.  If a food is being served that is on their dislikes, see if they can have a substation.  Use the seasonings that are provided to give the food more flavor. 
  • Watch for facial expressions at mealtimes.  Does it seem to hurt the resident to chew?  This can be caused by poor fitting dentures, teeth and gum problems.

Certified nursing assistants definitely play a role in the nutrition of a resident with dementia.  They spend more time with a resident during mealtimes then any other staff member making them the most aware of the nutritional needs of those with dementia.