Nighttime Snacks Stop Some Alzheimer's Wandering

Elderly people often eat more food when they are on a program of frequent, smaller meals than the standard three larger meals a day. Available snacks can also help people with Alzheimer’s who tend to wander. An informal experiment at the Parker Jewish Institute in New Hyde Park, N.Y. found that if they provided people with dementia who became anxious and agitated at night with a snack, they would often calm down and return to bed.

Aura Gordon, an RN manager, told one story last month at the Aging in America conference in Chicago. “A patient, ‘a lovely man,’ got out of bed around 2 a.m., as was his custom, picked up his newspaper and headed down the hall. He was preparing to ‘go to the market,’ which had been his pattern when he was working. The nurse saw him and figured if he thought he was going to work, he should eat a little something. She gave him a slice of cake and a cup of coffee. He ate the cake, drank the coffee, and then went back to bed.”

The Institute now routinely offers midnight snacks and has seen significant improvement in the behavior of their restless night wanderers.

Food availability improved in modern care centers

The effectiveness of how and when food is available to residents of care homes is not just limited to midnight snacks. When my mother was a resident in an excellent local nursing home, the standard food program provided three large meals a day as well as morning and afternoon snacks. Since the caregivers at the home were not only smart, but flexible, they quickly saw that my mother ate more if they just brought her orange juice, coffee and toast in the morning rather than the big omelet and sausage breakfast that the others may be eating. They also offered her lighter mid-day meals.

Near the time of my mother’s death, the forward looking nursing homes like the one where she lived began changing the way they offered food to all of their residents. They posted menus and meal times for up to five regular meals a day with many choices of foods, as well as snacks when the residents wanted them. The menus, hung by the elevator in the main rooms so that residents had ready access to them, were colorful and printed in large, dark letters. This change was a decided success.

Some people, like my mother, need several small meals a day with lighter foods, many of them cool. Others may prefer warm foods. Still others may continue to request the heavier meals. Individualized eating options can often be the key to successful nutrition.

Even the Federal guidelines have changed to reflect this thinking. When looking for a good nursing facility, check the frequency and selection of food offered to residents. Also, inquire about the staff’s flexibility. The Parker Jewish Institute staff was flexible enough to experiment. This flexibility is reflective of how modern the nursing home’s views are in all areas of care provided to their residents.


Alzheimer’s Weekly (2013, December 29) Midnight Munchies All Year Long. Retrieved from

University of Minnesota Nursing Home Regulations. Retrieved from

Carol Bradley Bursack
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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