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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Easy eating with thinking or memory difficulties (cognitive impairment)

Te kainga ngāwari me ngā raru ā-roro

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 these difficulties, the following strategies might make mealtimes easier.

If their swallowing problems are not due to cognitive impairment, see Safe eating and drinking.

Helping someone eat and drink safely

Offer meals at regular times of the day. The person may find it easier with five or six small meals rather than three larger ones. Let them eat when they are 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 are helping holds food in their mouth for too long, try serving foods that may help to prompt them to swallow. These may include sweet, sour, spicy, 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. Offering them smaller cutlery, such as a teaspoon can help 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. Talk to your speech-language therapist if you have any questions or concerns.

You may also want to access private specialist help.

Written by speech-language therapists, Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand Waitaha Canterbury. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2023.


Page reference: 121982

Review key: HISWD-121957