Dementia Gateway: Eating well for people with dementia
Nutrition: why it is important for people with dementia
- For many people with dementia, the changes that are experienced as dementia progresses can have an impact on the whole mealtime experience.
- These changes can result in weight loss, undernutrition and dehydration, or even weight gain.
- The more we know about a person with dementia, the easier it is to meet their nutritional needs.
We all have likes and dislikes and eating habits that are particular to us as individuals.
Explore the links below now to read more about this topic:
1. Introduction Open
For people with dementia, good nutrition is vital for health, independence and wellbeing. 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.
2. Weight loss Open
Losing weight is not an inevitable part of having dementia. With time, effort and knowledge of the person, food intake can be increased. It is helpful to be aware of some of the changes that can occur as dementia progresses, such as difficulties using cutlery and changes in visual perception: these changes can result in a person eating and drinking less than they need to stay healthy and well nourished.
Measuring a person's weight each week can help to indicate any changes that need attention. This is part of what is called 'nutritional screening', a process of identifying people who are malnourished or at risk of becoming so.
3. Changing preferences Open
It is not uncommon to notice a person's likes and dislikes for food and drinks change as dementia progresses. These may be quite dramatic and very different to the preferences a person may have held for many years. It is wise to expect change and not make assumptions that everything will stay the same.
A flexible approach to providing food and supporting the person at mealtimes is vital. As with any one of us, the appetite of a person with dementia may vary from day to day.
4. Individual routines Open
We all have likes and dislikes and eating habits that are particular to us as individuals. People with dementia are no different. We need to know what type of food a person likes to eat, where they like to eat it and when they like to eat.
For example, a person with dementia may be used to eating their main meal in the early evening by themselves, sitting in a comfortable chair listening to the radio.
If this person is suddenly offered their main meal at lunch time and expected to sit at a dining table with others it would be no surprise if they refuse to eat the meal or leave it uneaten. This new situation may be confusing and unfamiliar to the person or they may just not be hungry at that time of the day.
5. Preferences Open
Asking people with dementia about their mealtime preferences, when and where they like to eat and what foods they enjoy is vital to ensure we provide food and options at mealtimes that are familiar to them. Families and carers can be a valuable source of information if the person with dementia is struggling to communicate their eating habits and preferences for food and drinks.
6. Promoting independence Open
People with dementia may struggle to ask for food if they have difficulty finding the words to express themselves. Food and drinks need to be visible and available throughout the day so that people can eat and drink whenever they feel hungry or thirsty.
Ensure that snacks and drinks are easy to access and see so that people with dementia can take a drink or eat without having to wait for it to be offered.
7. Small appetites Open
For people with smaller appetites, large portions at mealtimes may be off-putting. Offer smaller portions at mealtimes with frequent nourishing snacks throughout the day including supper time, before a person goes to sleep.
8. Excessive weight gain Open
It is important to be aware that not every person with dementia will lose weight – some people may actually gain excessive weight. They may be eating more frequently, develop a preference for high calorie food and/or become less active.
Excessive weight gain can be unhealthy and uncomfortable for the person. It is important to identify what the causes are and support the person to help address this.
9. Getting help Open
A GP or consultant can refer a person with dementia to a dietician when they are concerned about that person's nutritional health, usually following a process of nutritional screening. A dietician will complete a comprehensive nutritional assessment and can then offer advice and support for people with dementia who are experiencing weight loss or excessive weight gain.
Over to you!
Click here to do a quick activity that will deepen your understanding of this topic. The activity can be done alone or with colleagues and you can also download a copy. Trainer's notes have also been provided.
If you visit the Dementia links section you will find suggestions for extra reading on this topic.
Watch our video on nutritional care for older people!
Nutritional care for older people
This film from Social care TV covers key aspects of nutrition and hydration.