My experience in getting Alzheimer’s patients to eat and drink was based on several ideas about helping the elderly I put into practice. First, for 10 years I volunteered every Sunday at a local nursing home. One of my tasks was to wheel several elderly residents into elevators and down to the dining room. My volunteer duties involved helping them eat their lunch. In many cases, I wasn’t too successful, because the dining room was a silent, unhappy place. There was nothing there to raise patients’ interests.
Later, because of my volunteer experience, I created what was called Operation L.O.V.E. (Lunchtime Outreach Visits to the Elderly). Our company was 20 miles north of the city center, and to get people to work and home again, we provided 25 vans to pick them up at the northernmost subway terminal and drop them off at work each day.
Because the vans sat idle in our parking lot from nine am to three pm, I established groups of volunteers, assigning 12 per van. We used the vehicles for visits and lunch several times a week with elderly patients at various nursing homes near our company buildings.
This gave us considerable experience in getting the patients, many suffering from Alzheimer’s, to eat and drink by bringing enjoyment to mealtimes. Our methods would be applicable for individual or groups of Alzheimer’s patients.
1. We made lunch visits friendly and interesting. Each of our volunteers sat with the same patient each time. When required, our volunteers aided in patient eating and drinking. This often established recognition and recall, helping patients to remember names and faces of volunteers.
2. Some of our volunteers were also singers and musicians. During each lunchtime visit, they conducted sing-alongs with the patients. We printed sheets of music lyrics of familiar songs from the the 1930s and 1940s. This enlivened patients when they recognized the songs of their youth, and they joined in.
3. When food was served, our volunteers ate the same menu as served by the nursing home. They discussed individual menu items and asked patients to recall when they shared them with their families. This often led to further conversations about family history, names of spouses, children and grandchildren.
4. When the more advanced Alzheimer’s patients were reluctant to eat or drink, our volunteers gently fed them. Often, the task was easier when it happened during entertainment and sing-along sessions.
Getting Alzheimer’s patients to eat is more pleasant if done with interesting entertainment, love, understanding and consideration.