Patient Referral
Employee Referral
Make A Donation

Hospice Care in San Mateo Considers the Possible Link Between Hunger and Alzheimer’s

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, you may notice that they seem to always be hungry. As memory weakens and brain signals deteriorate, major changes in appetite are common, says New Life Outlook. This can be challenging as they go through hospice — and as you attempt to care for them as best you can. Researchers have found a possible link between hunger and Alzheimer’s, which shows that food preferences change in those with the disease. This can go either way, leading to appetite loss and weight loss because food just doesn’t taste the same, or it can lead to weight gain and increased appetite. Why? Taste buds diminish in potency as we age, which is why people with dementia choose heavy foods or foods with a lot of flavor and sugar, according to

As a caregiver, you face a balance between the need to cater to your loved one’s physical needs, i.e., satiating their hunger, and finding ways to compromise so that they don’t overeat. You also have to help them control their eating behaviors, as some patients may act inappropriately when eating — taking food off others’ plates or even eating inedible things. Your hospice care team will keep an eye out for these behaviors and keep apprised of their dietary needs, but it often falls on the loved ones to fill in the gaps.

Eating Disturbances

Patients with dementia such as Alzheimer’s commonly experience a variety of eating disturbances, including trouble swallowing, changes in appetite, changes in eating habits and consumption of inedible objects. According to NCBI, these can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as:

  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Psychiatric symptoms
  • Neurological symptoms
  • Decline of daily activity

Different types of dementia can spur different eating disturbances. For example, those with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and semantic dementia (SD) experience an increase in appetite and prefer sweet and strong foods, expressing the desire to eat the same foods over and over again. Those with vascular dementia (VaD) have pseudobulbar palsy, which is characterized by a difficulty in swallowing and a higher risk of aspiration pneumonia. Those with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) also have difficulty swallowing and often just don’t want to eat as a result. Researchers have concluded that the various eating disturbances directly correspond to the severity of dementia.

Why is Hunger a Problem With Alzheimer’s Patients?

Alzheimer’s disease comes in many stages. In the early stages, you’ll see your loved one go through some memory loss, depression or anxiety, as well as changes in their personality. The next steps are characterized by difficulty with coordination, comprehension and communication. And in the final stages, mental disorientation and physical challenges can get in the way of basic tasks like walking, talking and even swallowing. This is also when you’ll see eating extremes enter the picture. The part of the brain that’s in charge of muscle coordination, concentration and memory start to break down, which makes communication more frustrating.

Those changes in eating habits can result from any number of factors, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness

Alzheimer’s, by nature, lessens the appetite and makes its victims simply forget to eat. This can result in anorexia or malnutrition. But some people react in a different way. All of the above changes can instead lead them to compulsively overeat or binge eat. This is out of their control. Alterations in the hypothalamus, which regulates hunger, make it hard for the person to realize when their stomach is full or empty.

Tips to Control Hunger

While you may feel it’s a good thing that your loved one is eating and keeping their weight on, this can lead to its own problems, not the least of which is an extremely uncomfortable feeling after eating too much. This can lead to nausea, vomiting and acid reflux. So, while you don’t want to put your loved one on a diet, especially as they go through hospice, there are ways you can help them control their hunger on a daily basis.

Try these tips to keep them comfortable and healthy:

  • Give them lots of small meals a day. This way, they can eat what they want more often, but in smaller portions. Divide each meal into two meals, then serve them every couple of hours.
  • Choose low-calorie snacks. As you probably already know, it’s hard to reason with an Alzheimer’s patient. So, rather than restrict food or constantly give in to their demands, make a compromise. Serve them food when they want it, but choose a variety of low-calorie snacks that will satisfy them yet won’t pack on the pounds or be too heavy in their stomach.
  • Restrict certain foods. This may be easier said than done when your loved one is prone to getting up and checking out the pantry closets. In this case, keep only approved snacks in those easily accessible places and lock up the special foods that they should only have once in awhile due to high fat or sugar content.
  • Find a distraction. Sometimes, we eat because we’re bored. The same is true with Alzheimer’s patients, who on top of that also experience a general feeling of uneasiness. To counter that, have some distractions at the ready: suggest a walk around the neighborhood, read a book together, do some gardening or take them on a quick errand. By taking the focus off food, even for a little while, you’re redirecting their brain to engage in a more meaningful and healthy task.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

It can be difficult to understand eating disturbances in your loved one with Alzheimer’s. Pathways Home Health and Hospice can help you navigate this confusing time in San Mateo. For more information about our home health care or our hospice care, call us at 888-755-7855.