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Keeping dementia patients properly nourished
Proper nourishment is integral to leading a healthy lifestyle. However, for people with dementia, maintaining a balanced diet can prove challenging. In many cases, this can lead to a level of malnutrition that exacerbates symptoms of the condition further.
With the right support in place and sufficient professional guidance, you can help make a meaningful difference to your loved one’s nutritional intake and overall quality of life.
How does dementia change people’s eating habits?
Eating habits can change significantly when a person develops dementia. Eating practices should be adapted to account for this, with assistance from a medical professional or specialist dietician.
These are some of the changes your loved one might experience:
Dementia is often associated with a gradual decline in body mass. This is usually the result of one or more of the following factors:
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty preparing food
- Difficulty recognising hunger
- Trouble communicating hunger
- Tiring more easily
- Difficulty with chewing or swallowing
- Medication adoption or increase
- Changes to sense of taste or smell
In some instances — if a person has had to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle — weight gain can occur. The person may eat more as a result of confusion over when they last ate, or where the next meal may be coming from. Weight gain can also occur if a person develops obsessive behaviours relating to a particular foodstuff.
How to support your loved one at mealtimes
With the right support in place, there are a number of steps you can take to help make mealtimes easier for your loved one.
- Eat with your loved one; make it a social activity and encourage them to copy you
- Make it a natural eating environment, with the sounds and smells of a kitchen
- Decrease visual and noise stimuli not linked to the eating process
- Give the person as much choice as possible over what, where and when they eat
- Differentiate items (table, cutlery and food) using bold colours to overcome sight difficulties
- Try moist, soft foods to overcome difficulties with chewing
- Avoid foods that are hard to chew or swallow, like dry biscuits or sweetcorn
- If they’ve developed a taste for sweet foods, replace with fruits where possible, add sugar or honey to savoury meals, or include a sweet side dish
- Use aromatic herbs and spices to enhance taste and stimulate appetite
- Top up with calorie-rich liquids, like milkshakes or smoothies
- Try regular, smaller meals and snacks to overcome diminished appetite
- Encourage them to drink regularly throughout the day; 1.2 litres is the recommended minimum
- Stay positive and relaxed throughout and don’t be overly concerned with mess
- Don’t assume that a person isn’t hungry if they haven’t eaten; look for potential causes
- Make sure the person is alert and comfortable when eating; this may mean adapting meal times
- If they’re having difficulty with cutlery, it may be appropriate to gently guide their hand to their mouth to remind them of the eating process
- Chop up food so the person only needs to use a spoon, or try finger foods
- Speak to an occupational therapist about specially adapted cutlery and crockery
- Ensure food isn’t too hot before serving; they may have trouble judging temperature
- Make sure their oral hygiene or dentures aren’t causing pain that may prevent eating
If you have any questions or concerns about how to support your loved one’s nutritional needs, speak to a healthcare professional or dietician.
Find out how The Good Care Group helps people with dementia maintain independence and dignity in their own homes.