Why Attention to Good Nutrition is Important for People living with Dementia
August 12, 2020
Neil Joyce talks us through the importance of good nutrition for people with dementia.
Good nutrition is vital for the health, independence and wellbeing of people with dementia. However, maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge for many people with dementia. Difficulties eating and drinking are more noticeable as dementia progresses and unwanted weight loss is a common problem.
Losing weight is not an inevitable part of having dementia. With time, effort and knowledge of the person, food and/or calorie intake can be increased. It is helpful to be aware of some of the changes that can occur as dementia progresses, such as difficulties with using cutlery, recognising food or taste changes. These changes can result in a person eating and drinking less than they need.
Measuring a person’s weight regularly can help to indicate any changes over time that need attention.
Poor nutritional intake and lack of fluids can contribute to the development and severity of delirium – sometimes referred to as ‘acute confusional state’. People with dementia are at a greater risk of developing delirium.
As dementia progresses it is common to notice a person’s likes and dislikes for food and drinks change. These can be quite dramatic. Asking a person with dementia about the food they like to eat is vital to ensure we provide options at mealtimes that they enjoy and are familiar with. We find that families and carers can be a valuable source of information if the person with dementia is struggling to communicate their eating habits and preferences. That said it is also important to review food preferences regularly.
Finding food and drinks
People with dementia may struggle to ask for food if they have difficulty finding the words to express themselves. It’s often a good idea to show the person the food and drinks choices available.
As with anyone, the appetite of a person with dementia may vary from day to day. For people with smaller appetites, large portions at mealtimes may be off-putting.
A person with dementia may start to lose their sense of smell, which can also be affected by ageing, and this will have a direct effect on the taste of food and impact a person’s appetite. We ensure food is flavoursome and tasty. The aroma of food or baking can also help to promote appetite and enhance the connection to mealtimes.
Innovative research, funded by the Design Council and Department of Health, is currently underway to examine the impact of using aroma to help stimulate appetite for people living with dementia. To find out more visit designcouncil.org.uk and go to Ode case study
Excessive weight gain
Over time, dementia will affect a person’s ability to cook and prepare food. Shopping for food may be confusing and understanding meal planning – say, working out what to buy or cook – may be difficult. The person may find it easier to buy and eat snack or convenience foods such as biscuits and crisps rather than a balanced meal.
A person may become less active too: for example, mobility problems may restrict walking, or they may feel anxious about going out alone. Subsequently, they may eat more food and calories than they need. As result, some people with dementia may start to gain excessive weight. It is important to identify what the causes are and support the person appropriately with advice from a dietician.
Clifden House Dementia Care Centre has been delivering exceptional residential and respite dementia care in Seaford, East Sussex for over 50 years. Make sure to follow us on Facebook for more dementia care advice.