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How to Feed a Late-Stage Alzheimer’s Patient

A Personal Perspective: I want to feed my mother nutrient-rich foods.

My husband says, "You’re feeding her like a teen addicted to fast food."

I am.

She had a Coca-Cola and a bar of chocolate for breakfast yesterday.

She has so much sugar in her tea you could stand a teaspoon up in it: “I take six [spoons],” she tells me."

She takes two. Very large ones. In a very small cup.

Oh. I started out with all the right intentions. Healthy ideals. I made homemade soup with handfuls of parsley (for the iron) and as much garlic (for immunity) as I thought I could get away with without making us all smell antisocial. I put heaps of seeds–chia, sunflower, pumpkin, linseed–in home-baked brown bread. Until my mother began to pick them out: “Who put stones in the bread?”

A year ago, the brake on my mother’s appetite seemed to be going. I had to hide food. Tuck tins of biscuits up high so she couldn’t get to them. Conceal chocolate. I secreted it away in the microwave because she couldn’t remember how to open it.

Six months ago, she patted her stomach: “There is something terribly wrong with me: My tummy is so swollen.” I had to buy her bigger trousers.

But about three months ago, her appetite and interest in food fell off a cliff.

If Alzheimer’s rendered the brake on her appetite ineffectual, now it seems to dull her thirst and has withered her taste buds.

“This tastes like sand,” she says of the bread (those stones removed), which I have slathered with real butter (for the calories, the fat-soluble vitamins) and expensive organic honey (for the general goodness of the stuff).

I don’t have to hide food now. She does. In pockets. Wrapped in tissues. Down the side of her chair. Beneath it. As fast as she loses weight, my Labrador gains it.

“She’s very affectionate, isn’t she,” Mum says of the dog that never leaves her side.

Cupboard love. Literally. I hate to think how many packets of cookies this hound has consumed in the last few weeks.

Those soups?

“This is too cold,” Mum complains, sticking her finger into the mug.

I put the cup in the microwave (empty now, no need to hide anything in there anymore) and whack the heat up a bit.

“Now it’s too hot.”

I feel as if I’m in a Goldilocks tale of our own casting: too hot, too cold. Never, ever just right.

“I’ve left the last little sip," Mum says, proffering her half-full mug. I give up.

A bowl of lovingly prepared spaghetti Bolognese, a favourite until recently, dredged in expensive Parmigiano Rosse (for the fat, the calcium, the sheer general luxury).

Mum takes a mouthful, grimaces, and drops her fork: “The food in this place has really gone off."

This place?

I laugh. The dog at Mum’s feet licks her lips.

In his wonderful My Father’s Brain, Sandeep Jauhar speaks of learning to lie to his father, buying into his Alzheimer’s reality. He isn’t comfortable with it but it seems the kindest option.

I apply the same principle to my mother’s eating and drinking. I no longer have the luxury of giving her what’s good for her. I only care about calorie counting (as many as I can squeeze into the tiniest portions) and hydration. I have to give her whatever she’ll eat (breakfast porridge with so much sugar on the top I can hear her crunching her way through every mouthful); full fat Vanilla ice-cream swimming in caramel sauce.

So yes, Coke and chocolate for breakfast.

You do your best. This is mine.

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