This is a wonderful forum and resource.

My father-in-law is in his 80s, and has dementia. My wife's family is caring for him at home.

I don't know the right thing to do. It seems very clear to me that my father-in-law is not enough calories. My in-laws are incredibly loving and devoted, but I have not been able to convince them that Daddy would benefit from eating more calorie-dense foods, like nut butters, or even just some fatty things like ice cream. Daddy has little energy, and is often listless and depressed. By my reckoning, he probably eats no more than 1200 calories per day.

How can I help? His dementia has left him severely mentally and physically disabled. Is it better to simply allow his life to fade? I don't believe in keeping people from a natural death.

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Thomas, bless you for caring. Bear in mind that you will see him lose weight as his body can no longer efficiently process the food he eats. An 85 year old man who is 5'10" (178cm) and 150 lbs (68kg) and sedentary only uses 1315 calories BMR (basic metabolic rate). Encourage them, support them and bring Dad some dark chocolate covered cashews if he likes them. My Dad liked buttercreams.
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Thank you for your responses. I've read other posts on this website, and I understand now that he is in the end stage of life. I just didn't realize it before, even though I saw his condition. I know that his family is doing the absolute best for him.
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I understand your concern, but families approach the care of family members who have dementia in different ways. Since dementia is terminal and you state that he is severely physically and mentally disabled, it is likely they are not trying to prolong life. I think that often the goal is to bring the patient as much comfort and pleasure they can get and often that is from providing them the food they enjoy. It may be ice cream that he likes the most.

Also, it's not uncommon for those with advanced dementia to eat normally, but still lose weight. It's a normal progression of the illness and sometimes even adding calories will not help the person stop losing weight.

It also could be that this patient has chewing or swallowing issues. As long as he was being cared for by his family and not being neglected, I think I would trust their plan of care and treatment, unless they asked for my input.

Do you know if he is on Hospice?
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Is his depression being treated? Many antidepressants have the nifty side effect of increaing appetite.

If you are not doing the caregiving, giving advice can be really annoying to the caregivers. Offer to take care of your father in law for a day. Or for a weekend. You may then have a better idea what they are up against.
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Could it be that your wife's family tries to get him to eat and he just won't? His listlessness, low energy, and depression may be affecting his appetite. And you said that he is severely mentally and physically disabled. This would affect his appetite as well.

Does your father-in-law have a sweet tooth or did he always crave salty snacks? Try taking him something that he's enjoyed in the past.

Drinks like Boost and Ensure are helpful too.
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