How To Get People With Dementia To Take Pills

Dementia care demands incredible creativity. The ever changing needs of the person who has dementia challenges family caregivers and professionals alike. One particular frustration is getting important medications into their loved ones who either can't or won't cooperate when it comes to taking pills.

As Alzheimer's spreads throughout the brain, logic departs. The ability to understand one's world disappears, understandably being replaced by fear and suspicion. These emotions are often blamed by caregivers when the person that they love refuses to take needed medications.

To complicate issues, loss of appetite is common. Disliking once favored food is also common. Swallowing can be a problem, as well as sheer stubbornness about taking the pills. Therefore tricks become the norm in the quest to sneak pills into a loved one's food, often with limited success. Sweet treats are often the chosen method since people with dementia seem to like sweets, but this method often fails when medication is added. Why?

Teepa Snow, an acclaimed dementia-care education specialist, reminds us that the sense of taste changes with the progress of the disease. Unfortunately, the ability to detect bitterness remains strong. This is one reason why it becomes more difficult to sneak medications into food. The other reason is that people with the disease can still detect texture.

Apple sauce and pudding are two foods that caregivers instinctively go to for as carriers for the needed medications. Apple sauce eventually becomes a failure because it tastes bitter to a person who no longer detects the sweet taste efficiently. Pudding, which is sweeter than apple sauce, also has its issues.

Pudding fails for many people because of the texture problem. It's impossible to crush a pill to such a fine powder that a certain amount of texture isn't present in the pudding. While your loved one probably likes the pudding, he or she may spend time picking - or spitting - out the very thing you are trying to sneak into them. The medication.

What does Snow suggest? Jam. Not jelly, which is smooth, but sweet, lumpy jam. This is, in my opinion, sheer brilliance. It's both sweet and textured. Most people who like sweets will not bulk at a spoonful of their favorite jam. If the pill is one that can be crushed, make it as fine as possible and then add it to a spoon of jam.

Teepa Snow is usually spot on. I'd love to hear from caregivers who have given this trick a try. Let me know if she has this common problem solved for family caregivers and professionals alike.

Carol is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at Follow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook: Minding Our Elders

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Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at