Many people with Alzheimer’s disease—particuarly those in the later stages of the illness—suffer from dysphagia, or the inability to properly swallow food. This often means that their food must be pureed so they can eat it more easily. Sadly, however, getting the right flavor and texture in a puree is not always as easy as it sounds.
On top of this, pureed foods are generally presented to patients as shapeless and somewhat colorless blobs that are barely recognizable as food at all, let alone the tasty and nutritious foods they used to be. Caregivers regularly have trouble getting dysphagia patients to eat, not necessarily because they’re incapable or unwilling to eat, but because they don’t understand that what they’re being presented is actually food.
Doesn’t exactly look like chicken, does it? You might have trouble eating this too.
Luckily, there is a solution to unappetizing pureed hospital food. Just one extra step—molding pureed food back into the shape of the food—makes a world of difference in getting patients to eat and helping them enjoy their meal.
Here’s how you can make pureed food that looks and tastes good (and is packed full of nutrition too!) for dementia patients suffering from dysphagia:
Step 1: Puree
Making the puree correctly is perhaps the most important step to proper food preparation for someone who suffers from dysphagia. You don’t want the mixture to be too soupy, but it can’t be too solid either, and it shouldn’t contain chunks. You’re looking for a creamy consistency that sticks to a spoon when turned upside down for a couple of seconds.
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Step 2: Thicken and Fortify
If your puree isn’t quite thick enough (it might not be after going through the blender, and that’s perfectly normal), you’ll want to have a thickening agent on hand to balance the juiciness of the other ingredients. This is especially important for fruits and vegetables, as they tend to be the most liquidy.
It’s also important to make sure your puree has maximum nutrients. Even if the elderly person is not eating the entire plateful, they should still get enough nutrients to survive. Hospital-grade food fortifiers can help ensure that patients get all the proper nutrients they might not get from their food.
Step 3: Mold
Once you’ve got your puree ready, it’s time to pick out a mold that looks the most similar to the type of food you’re working with. Food molds come in many different shapes (e.g. green beans or peas, baby carrots, fish fillet, pumpkin, and chicken breast) so that whatever you’re making can actually be recognizable as food and taste like it looks like it’s going to taste. Nobody wants to bite into a blob of food and have no idea what it’s going to be.
Now pop your puree molds into the freezer for a few hours so you’ll be able to take them out in one piece.