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If you’re caring for someone with dementia, you might notice changes in the way they experience food and eating. They might:

  • lose their appetite
  • forget to eat or drink
  • stop recognising when they are hungry or thirsty
  • lose the ability to tell if food is too hot or cold
  • have trouble using cutlery
  • always feel hungry, or have a hunger that can’t be satisfied
  • crave salty or sugary foods, or unusual flavour combinations
  • forget how to chew or swallow, or take too large bites, putting them at risk of choking
  • have difficulty eating or feeding themselves.

Everyone experiences dementia differently, so you may notice some of these changes more, and some not at all.

What you can do

To support someone with dementia around eating:

  • plan for meals to be social occasions wherever possible
  • consider the way the person has always liked to eat. Have they always had a small or big appetite? Were they always a sweet tooth, and has this changed?
  • watch for behaviour like hiding food or not eating regularly, especially if the person lives alone
  • encourage them to drink regularly to avoid dehydration
  • organise home-delivered meals or pre-prepared supermarket meals to encourage them to eat, particularly if they live alone
  • track their eating habits, and let their doctor or other health professionals (like a dietician) know if you notice any new symptoms or issues.

Dementia-friendly mealtimes

Mealtimes can become difficult for someone living with dementia. They might not know what the items on the table are, for example. To make mealtimes easier:

  • serve familiar food
  • serve one course at a time in small portions you can refresh
  • serve food at safe temperatures for eating
  • use no-spill cups
  • serve finger food they can eat with their hands
  • serve food in a bowl if makes it easier to eat
  • remove distracting items from the table, like extra cutlery or glasses, or salt and pepper shakers
  • remove items that might be mistaken for food, such as napkins or flowers
  • use cutlery and plates without complex patterns that are a different colour to the place mat or table
  • minimise noise, activities and other distractions
  • make sure the room is well lit.

Appetite loss

You might find that the person you’re caring for wants to eat less or that they don’t want to eat at all.

To help with appetite loss:

  • serve meals at consistent times during the day
  • offer finger foods or snacks throughout the day
  • keep mealtimes calm and relaxed, and if the person is agitated or distressed, postpone the meal until they feel calmer
  • serve small portions of warm food, so it won’t go cold before they finish
  • encourage them to eat all or most of one type food before moving on to the next, or only serve one type of food at a time
  • give them plenty time for the person to eat — meals might take up to an hour
  • check in to see if they’ve finished before taking a plate away, as they might not be done yet
  • serve familiar and favourite dishes often
  • choose snacks with a high water content, including fruits like melon
  • provide a variety of nutritious foods to avoid constipation
  • make sure they get enough physical exercise, which can help to boost appetite
  • talk to their doctor or dietician if they lose a lot of weight or are struggling to eat.


Dementia can change the way a person behaves around food. They might seem always hungry or obsessed with a specific food. This can lead to them eating too much.

To help with overeating:

  • break down larger meals into five to six small meals each day
  • offer low-kilojoule snacks like apples and carrots
  • lock away or hide problem foods
  • offer water or a low-kilojoule drink instead of more food
  • fill their plate mostly with salad or vegetables
  • head out for a walk or increase their social activities — boredom and loneliness can lead to overeating
  • talk to their doctor or dietician if they gain a lot of weight.

Taste changes

Dementia can change the way someone experiences flavour, because it can affect their sense of taste and smell. Dementia can also affect their mood, leading them to want comfort foods. These are often sweet or salty.

To help manage changes in taste:

  • encourage healthy options like fruit or naturally sweet vegetables instead of serving sweets
  • use herbs, spices, sauces and chutneys to enhance the flavour of dishes
  • let them eat odd food combinations as long as they’re safe and nutritious
  • check medications for side effects — some antidepressant medications, for example, might cause cravings for sweets.

Mouth, chewing and swallowing problems

Dementia can make it harder to eat safely and comfortably. Some people with dementia experience a dry mouth, while gum disease or dentures that don’t fit properly can also cause problems with eating.

To help with these problems:

  • serve moist food or use gravy and sauces for dry mouth
  • moisten food with water or other liquids
  • offer foods like ice cream, yoghurt or milkshakes
  • remind them to chew swallow, and demonstrate it yourself
  • apply light pressure on their lips or under their chin to encourage them to chew
  • gently stroke their throat to help them to swallow
  • offer small bites, one at a time
  • book a dental appointment to check their gums, teeth and dentures
  • talk to their doctor if they’re developing choking problems
  • talk to a speech therapist for advice and strategies around swallowing.

It’s okay to take care of your own health and happiness. If you're struggling as someone who cares for a person with dementia, contact the free, confidential National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, any time of the day or night, for information, advice and support.

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Last updated
3 January 2024