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What to do When a Dementia Patient Stops Eating

How dementia can affect eating habits

If a person living with dementia stops eating there can be various reasons for this, some more obvious than others. For instance, loved ones may presume that the person is simply forgetting to eat and that by reminding them the problem will be solved, but it may not be that simple. Dementia doesn’t just affect someone’s memory, it can affect the entire function of the body, because as more of the brain stops functioning, other parts of the body stop working too. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are many reasons why someone living with dementia may stop eating and drinking, including side effects of medication and communication difficulties. It’s important that these should be investigated though and not just written off as inevitable consequences of the dementia.


What can cause poor appetite

Think of the brain like the Central Processing Unit of a computer – if it stops working then the whole computer doesn’t work; it controls everything. This means that if the part of the brain that controls swallowing becomes damaged by the effects of dementia, the person may no longer be able to swallow, which could mean they are afraid to eat. Different types of dementia can present symptoms in different ways, but whenever a loved one refuses to eat or drink it can be understandably worrying and upsetting. There are many other reasons that can affect appetite though, and some of those include constipation, depression, communication difficulties, and pain. Devising a method of communication with someone who becomes less verbal as their dementia progresses can be challenging, but it will also be immensely rewarding for both the person and their caregivers. Some people respond well to using picture cards, hand signals, or just watching someone else’s behaviour you want them to emulate, so remaining in their eyeline while you eat or drink may be all it takes for them to mirror your actions.


How to encourage a healthy appetite

Respecting someone as an individual and making sure they are being offered person-centred dementia care is essential to them avoiding boredom or becoming depressed. They will have had hobbies and interests that meant a lot to them before they were diagnosed, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t still enjoy them. This may include cooking, baking, or preparing food and this should be encouraged if it’s something they’ve always liked to do. The Alzheimer’s Society tells us that it’s important how we “make food look and smell. Use different tastes, colours and smells. The aroma of cooking – for example freshly baked bread – can stimulate someone’s appetite.”
Overloading a plate can also be off-putting for someone who is struggling with their appetite, as being faced with too much food can make them not want to even attempt it. Offering small, regular portions work best, while making sure there is always water or a preferred beverage on hand. It’s also important to remember that just because a food was always a favourite, that may change as the person’s dementia progresses, so to keep offering something just because it was always enjoyed in the past may not go down well.
Being too rigid about mealtimes can also stop someone wanting to eat, as they may just not be hungry when the food is offered and then when they actually do feel hungry there’s nothing available. It may be a good idea to have snacks, small meal items and other finger foods available all the time, just in case they feel like eating at an unusual time. This could also include during the night. The Alzheimer’s Society also recommend being flexible what the person eats and when. For instance, “Don’t stop someone eating dessert if they haven’t eaten their savoury meal. They may prefer the taste of the dessert.” This could be all it takes to get them to eat something and may be easier for them to chew on or swallow due to its consistency. It’s all about discovering what is the right thing for that individual and ensures we’re always focussing on person-centred care.
Ultimately though, if the person refuses to eat or drink it is a concern and if it continues it should be reported to the GP or community nurse.


How Helping Hands can help with dementia care

Because Helping Hands have over 30 years of experience in caring for people living with dementia, we can offer person-centred support in the comfort and security of their own home. Our superior standards of dementia care ensure you have all the support you need to carry on living in the place that means the most to them, filled with precious pets, special people, and favourite views. Care at home is a viable alternative for anyone who needs additional support, whether it’s occasional or every day, and our round-the-clock live in care means that you or your loved one will never be alone or lonely. Living with dementia can make everyday life more difficult to manage, but with our carers coming to support with everything from personal care and housework to making the most of the local community, they’ll make all the difference to the lives of the people they care for.
Our carers are amazing, dedicated individuals who use their compassionate natures to make a huge difference to the lives of our customers. They work tirelessly to provide the support needed, whether it’s mild or complex – for an hour a day or around-the-clock. We build on their experience to make sure they have all of the necessary skills to help effectively and will be an integral part of your dementia journey from beginning to end.
If you would like to find out more about our exceptional dementia care you can call our friendly customer service team, chat to them online, or request a call back for a time that suits you. You could also pop into one of our 150 branches across England and Wales, the details of which you can find here.