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HealthInfo Canterbury

Easy eating with cognitive problems

Cognition refers to how a person processes and uses information. Cognitive impairment means a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions. It can range from mild to serious, and often happens after a stroke or brain injury, or with dementia. If you care for someone who has cognitive impairment, the following strategies might help to make mealtimes easier.

If their swallowing problems are caused by something other than cognitive impairment, see Safe eating and drinking.

Helping someone eat and drink safely

SwallowingOffer meals at regular times of the day. The person may find it easier with five to six small meals rather than three larger ones. Let them eat when they're hungry.

Try to prepare familiar foods in familiar ways, especially their favourite foods.

Set up the table so they are looking at someone else eating, as this may remind them to eat and swallow.

Make sure:

If the person you're helping holds food in their mouth for too long, try serving foods that may help prompt them to swallow, such as sweet, sour or spicy, or hot or cold foods. Be careful with hot food, though. If they are eating too quickly, remind them to slow down, encourage them to put their spoon or fork down on the plate between mouthfuls, and offer smaller cutlery, such as a teaspoon, to reduce the size of each mouthful.

Feeding someone safely

If you need to feed the person, first follow the advice above.

When you are feeding them:

There are many different strategies to make eating and drinking safer. Please talk to your speech-language therapist if you have any questions or concerns.

You may also want to access private specialist help.

Written by community speech-language therapists. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2020.


Page reference: 121982

Review key: HISWD-121957