Does good nutrition and regular meals make a difference?
Working on a person’s health and diet when they live with dementia should not be limited according to how the disease affects them. Diet and dementia symptoms should be monitored by carers to ensure that the person they’re caring for is getting all the nutrients they require.
Encouraging a person to eat, and to eat the right things, can be difficult when dementia symptoms worsen. However, a balanced diet and dementia symptoms should be seriously considered when a care plan is put together. The care plan should include a diet catered to the customer and how and where the customer likes to eat their meals. Being aware of their eating environment can make a big impact on the person’s eating habits, helping them to feel more comfortable as they eat.
A high protein, high calorie diet is often recommended for people with dementia as food intake can be poor resulting in significant weight loss, frailty and loss of mobility. It can also help prevent cardiovascular disease such as strokes and heart attacks.
Because of the importance of a controlled diet for dementia patients and the great difference it can make to our customers, where relevant, diet is included in the Helping Hands care plan which is overseen by our in-house nutritionist.
Diet and dementia – nutritional and mealtime tips
Here are a few tips to help improve your loved one’s nutritional intake if they’re living with dementia:
- Aim for regular meals at regular times to help the individual get into a routine.
- Aim for foods that are obvious shapes and colours, for example chicken and separately placed vegetables are more obvious than a plate of cottage pie and gravy which will appear ‘unknown’ to the customer with an advanced dementia.
- Avoid drinking tea with meals – the tannin in tea stops the absorption of iron in food.
- Eat little and often – if food intake is poor at meal times aim to have a snack mid-morning, mid afternoon and evening.
- Allow plenty of time for each meal – however if eating has stopped at 30 minutes clear everything away – leaving the person with cold or unappetising food can be distressful.
Dementia dining – how to create the right eating environment
Creating the right environment for eating is essential for anyone with dementia. Extra noise, an uncomfortable chair and bad lighting are all obstacles which we can help them overcome.
Here’s an essential guide to supporting your loved one with happy and nutritious mealtimes:
- Avoid any distractions – turn off the TV and any background music.
- Use easily identifiable crockery and cutlery and use the same each day for each meal – Aim to use a large plate – plain in colour and ideally with a coloured edge – this will help the person identify the edge of the plate.
- The plate should be a contrasting colour to the table i.e. a white plate on a white table will be confusing, however studies have shown that people eat more food if a white plate is used rather than a black plate.
- If the person struggles with crockery – cut the food up for them but encourage them to feed themselves with a fork or a spoon or even using their fingers.
- Move the plate so it is in eye-line and easy reach.
- If you’re eating together, try to eat slowly so the person doesn’t feel pressured to eat fast.
- People with advanced dementia may need reminding to chew and to swallow.
- Check the temperature – someone with dementia is unable to gauge temperature so make sure it is not too hot.
- The individual may not recognise or understand what hungry or thirsty is so always encourage.
Read more tips in our practical guide to creating a dementia-friendly home.
Variety, variety, variety is the key to increasing food intake. People can eat 50% more if there is variety – this has been demonstrated with the popular chocolate snack, Smarties – if they are all the same colour, in tests, people eat 50% fewer than if there is a choice of multi colours! And when meal intake declines, often due to a lack of appetite or reduced ability to swallow, try nutritious alternatives like soups, soft avocado and banana.
Try using these principles with everyday meals: offer a variety of tastes, textures, colours and smells and serve the food on the right crockery and in a comfortable environment. We train our dementia carers to use these methods to great effect.
Caroline Deakin, the Helping Hands in-house nutritionist
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