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The Art of Feeding Someone Who Won’t Sit Still Long Enough to Eat

By , 9:35 pm on

Portable food is the answer when the person you’re caring for can’t sit to eat, or at all.

Sometimes changes in the brain make a person with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) constantly moving, restless, and unable to sit still.  If the person does manage to sit or stand still for a moment or two, they will be rocking or moving their feet as if to walk.  Of course, this constant motion uses a great deal of energy, making the problem of hunger even more extreme for someone who is unable to sit still long enough to eat a traditional meal.

To satisfy hunger or soothe themselves, some Alzheimer’s patients are driven to try to eat household cleaners, personal care products such as toothpaste and deodorant, and small objects.  The inability to determine what is safe to eat is very dangerous when the person is in constant motion and generating great hunger.  Store chemicals and personal care items securely.

Helping the person in this situation eat safely is possible, with planning and preparation. Here are 7 tactics:

  1. Plan the day’s 5-10 high nutrient, easy to carry snacks from a variety of food groups.
  2. Prepare and store this food so you can quickly give it to your loved one.
  3. Serve cooked foods at cold or at room temperature, to avoid burns.
  4. If the person will chew and swallow normally, choose larger, firmer finger food. (One quarter of a grilled cheese sandwich, grape tomatoes, ½ bite size pieces of soft chicken breast or ham, sections of clementine, cooked carrots, green beans, squash, and potatoes cut into ½ bite size pieces, cooked, small ravioli without sauce)
  5. For someone who might gobble the food with minimal or no chewing, choose softer foods, and smaller pieces, such as diced canned fruits and vegetables, diced bananas, very small pieces of hamburger, chicken or tuna.
  6. To prevent dehydration, offer cool or lukewarm liquids every hour.  Serve drinks and soups in travel mugs or sippy cups, including nutrition beverages like Ensure, drinkable yogurt, non-chunky soups, smoothies, and non-carbonated beverages.
  7. Don’t highly season food, especially avoiding lots of pepper, as this can cause choking.

If you notice choking, a runny nose during or after eating, a very long time to swallow food, or grimacing while eating or drinking, see a doctor about swallowing difficulties. 

Being in constant motion makes a person a greater fall risk, so if you haven’t already, get rid of loose rugs and move furniture to create clear pathways through roomsFootwear should be well fitting, flat shoes and not socks or slippers.  Watch for a forward tilt to the body as your loved one walks. This is a sign of fatigue and means they are less stable. Try to get them to sit down, even for a moment, to rest their legs.  See a neurologist about prolonged constant motion and inability to rest.

Each person’s experience of AD is unique.  Some people never experience a particular behavior; those that they do, come and go with the course of the disease. Most behaviors can be managed with patience and creativity. Support groups can be a great source of ideas.  Call on family members or professional caregivers to give yourself rest.

Lee Nyberg seeks to help families care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s through education and her company, Home Care Assistance. Home Care Assistance provides in-home senior care, helping seniors maintain their independence, dignity, and control and giving their families peace of mind. For more information, visit or call 402-763-9140 to talk to Claire.

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