How Food Cravings Change with Dementia

Many people with dementia experience sudden changes in appetite preferences and an increase in unhealthy cravings. As the disease progresses, taste buds diminish, insulin in the brain can drop and some people experience intense cravings for high-calorie foods. How Food Cravings Change with Dementia

Learn more about how to manage these cravings to help keep your loved one healthy.

Appetite Changes As A Result of Dementia

As most caregivers know, many people who have dementia experience sudden changes in appetite which can lead to appetite loss, weight loss or increased cravings of sugary foods and weight gain. Often people with dementia don’t taste food and experience flavor like they once did, which can change appetite preferences. Because taste buds are diminished as people age, people with dementia opt for heavy foods or foods with a lot of flavor, like sugary sweets.

Some researchers also believe that there is a link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s, even going so far as to call Alzheimer’s a third type of diabetes. Researchers have found that the brain actually produces insulin, just like the pancreas. The amount of insulin produced in the brain drops as Alzheimer’s progresses, which leads to brain cell death, especially in the parts of the brain responsible for memory.

Further linking sugary cravings and dementia, recent studies have shown that when dementia attacks the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, unhealthy cravings increase. That part of the brain is responsible for self-restraint in our diet. Thus, when a person has dementia and that particular cortex is hijacked, they often experience preferences for high calorie foods.

Managing and Addressing Cravings

Whether your loved one is craving sugar and experiencing weight gain or you are having trouble getting him or her to eat at all, there are few basic guidelines to ensure proper nutrition.

1. Eat in a quiet and calm room with limited distractions so that your loved one can focus on eating.
2. Eat meals together which can increase the likelihood that your loved one will eat the healthy meal provided.
3. Pack in protein. Even if your loved one cannot chew meat well, try eggs, milk-based pudding, or even protein powder.
4. Cut food into small pieces to make eating easier if your loved one can no longer use utensils.
5. Puree vegetables and add them to a shake if your loved one will not eat vegetables on their own.
6. Strengthen the prefrontal cortex responsible for dietary self-restraint by avoiding alcohol, getting adequate sleep, and exercising.
7. At the end of life, allow them to indulge. Registered Dietician, Jillian Ball of Ball & Associates Nutrition Counseling says:

“Food is one of the last things people can enjoy when they’re sick.”

She cautions that if they still have a long life ahead of them to watch their sugar intake and monitor blood sugar if they have diabetes.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • wschindler

    Food is indeed one of the best ways to open thoughts. I give my mom lots of outside experiences involving great food. It is impossible to measure the pleasure or good life of this, but it warms me when my mom says “this is really good”.

    • caitlinburm

      It is good to hear that you can create such great experiences with your mother through food! Thank you for sharing your story!

  • The Senior List

    It’s very interesting as we learn more about the many issues associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. thx for sharing!

  • Regan Kennedy

    Has anyone had the experience of having a dementia patient not know when they are full after eating dinner? My Mom keeps eating anything that is on the table despite having had a good portion for dinner.

    • caitlinburm

      Hi Regan,

      Yes, I know exactly what you’re describing. My grandmother with dementia eats breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between, but doesn’t recall eating all the time. She especially craves sugar and sweets and we’ve found that monitoring her eating and allowing her to enjoy puddings, like this blog article suggests, has been helpful to us.

  • Giving special attention to a person who has dementia is very important, knowing what kind of food to give them like sweets will help them eat their meal. I want to thank you for this post this helps a lot.

  • wendy

    my mother craves meat, cheeseburgers especiallly

    • MaryAnn

      My Mom keeps talking about macaroni and cheese, ham sandwiches and craves candy. I cook and she would rather sleep than eat. She wakes up and wants a sandwich.

  • Margaret

    My dad has dementia, is complete care and bedridden. He is 96 and has lost about 50 lbs over the past year. He won’t open his mouth sometimes…….any suggestions?

  • Cindy sheets

    I can’t seem to get full I don’t want to stop eating

  • William Patterson

    My mom fights every night at dinner time. She is only 64. She has moderate frontotemperal dementia. She keeps gaining weight because we talk her into finishing her meals. They are not big meals, just enough to satisfy her. We are all skinny so I am not over feeding her just a fyi. She is only 130 lbs but carrying weight in her stomach. Any advise would be awesome.

    • Vanesa

      Hi Mr. Patterson,
      I first want to say I’m very sorry about your mother’s health condition. I’ve recently listened to health summits including dementia and Alzheimer’s. Please research the benefits of coconut oil and essential oils on these specific conditions. Drs. Normally say there’s nothing to do except put the patient on toxic drugs until. But please know, there is help. It’s possible that this condition can be reversed. Please research.

    • Melanie Carek

      How are her bowel movements? I would be concerned that she is backed up.

  • dfile

    Thank you for posting this article. My mother has dementia, and eats very little left on her own. However, she has gained quite a belly (yet she walks every day and exercises at home for 30 minutes). At night, all she wants after a meal is chocolate, and a lot of it! I have been worried about her binging, and now know why she does it. Thanks again.

  • Jennie

    Thanks for posting this. I went to check on my 83 yr old aunt this week and her fridge was packed with coke and she was eating potato chips! She has been a health nut all her life! Not likelher at all.
    When I try to get her to eat good food she always says “oh I’m not hungry, I just ate”. Then I put a meal down in front of her and she eats the whole thing! I’m starting to worry she’s not eating on her own. This disease is so upsetting, I feel so bad for my dad having to see his sister like this ????

  • Michael Walsby

    Half the problems with dementia,in old folks homes at least, are caused by the zombification of residents by giving them prescribed drugs. This has been going on for many decades,& relatives are usually unaware of it. Some elderly residents don’t like being imprisoned in an old folk’s home,however well run, & want to go for a walk around the town as they used to. The staff are worried that they might get lost or run over,so doctors who should know better prescribe sedatives which turn them into zombies & eliminate their desire to wander. I know,because this is what happened to my grandmother,though I didn’t realise it at the time,but I was quite taken aback by what seemed like a very rapid deterioration in her condition.
    Had I known,I would have done my best to stop it,and given the home in Bute St.,Cardiff,which was otherwise a good one.written permission to stop the treatment,& taken full responsibility for any mishaps which might have occurred if & when she wandered. Far better that old folk are allowed to take risks than become zombies or human vegetables,which inevitably leads to an earlier death than would otherwise be the case.

  • Jack E Rainwater

    My mother has late stages dementia. She has gained alot of weight. She would eat every waking moment if we let her. She never has ever said she is full in the last few years that I can remember. When she does eat constantly when I am not here, (I live 414 miles away from my parents) these are not just snack these are full meals. Anyone else experience this?

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