Eating well with dementia
Eating well is vital to maintain the health, independence and wellbeing of people with dementia. However, for many people with dementia, eating can become challenging as their dementia progresses. Some lose their appetite or the skills needed to use cutlery, others struggle to chew and swallow. Explore the links below to find out more about this theme.
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Why nutrition 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, dehydration or even weight gain. Malnutrition and dehydration can contribute to the risk of developing delirium. The more we know about a person with dementia, the easier it is to meet their nutritional needs.
Chewing and swallowing problems
People with dementia can experience difficulties with chewing and swallowing as the dementia progresses. These problems can affect how well a person with dementia eats. If we can identify and act on signs of chewing and swallowing difficulties we can help to reduce the risk of malnutrition.
Promoting independence at mealtimes
People with dementia can often experience difficulties making choices about what they want to eat and drink. Being aware of some of the difficulties a person with dementia may experience at mealtimes can help to ensure that we give them the best possible support.
The eating environment
The environment in which a person with dementia eats will have an effect on how they eat. People with dementia will not want to stay and eat in an environment in which they feel uncomfortable. Understanding the impact of the mealtime environment can help us to improve the eating experience for people with dementia.
Can diet prevent or slow down dementia?
The nutritional quality of our diet has an impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. There are no conclusive findings on whether individual supplements or so-called 'super-foods' can improve cognitive function or reduce the risk of developing dementia. A combination of nutrient-rich foods and a Mediterranean-style diet appears more effective at reducing our risk of dementia. Research continues in this area to explore the relationship between diet, cognitive function and dementia.
Eating well at home
Home care workers have a vital role in supporting a person who lives at home to eat well. Work out a person's food preferences and encourage them to be as involved as possible in food preparation. Consider whether the approach to shopping and accessing meals is working well to ensure there is a regular supply of food in the house. Try some alternatives, such as finger foods and snacks, if a person is not eating or drinking enough. Keep alert to any chewing and swallowing problems.
Activities based around food
Engaging people with dementia in conversation and food-based activities can stimulate interest in food and appetite. People with dementia can benefit greatly from being involved in food preparation and jobs related to mealtimes. Learning about people's lives can reveal important information about their interest and involvement with food in the past and how that sits now. Food is an important part of most social events, and a diverse social programme can offer range of experiences at mealtimes.
All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following download you will need a free MySCIE account:
- What the research says: Eating well
Useful links Open
The Alzheimer’s Society website has a section entitled Eating and drinking, which covers a wide range of issues to do with helping people with dementia to eat well: difficulties with eating and drinking, preparing meals, the eating environment and finger foods. The Society also produces a factsheet on Eating and drinking (511).
Eating and drinking well: supporting people living with dementia
A team from Bournemouth University has developed a 26-minute training film aimed at nurses and care home staff, based on findings from a major study in this area. A workbook to accompany the film is also available from the research team.
Eating well for older people and older people with dementia: Practical guide
This 2011 guide from the Caroline Walker Trust explains why eating good food matters for older people with dementia, suggests types and amounts of food that might be appropriate to meet nutritional needs, and includes sample menus.
Eating well for people with dementia: a guide for carers
This 24-page booklet has been produced by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland. It covers topics such as ‘Encouraging eating’, ‘Common problems with eating and drinking’, ‘Dealing with diabetes’, as well as explaining the role of occupational therapists and speech therapists in this area, and the importance of mouth and dental care.
Nutrition and dementia
This 2014 report from Alzheimer’s Disease International investigates the links between diet and dementia and looks in detail at a range of ways in which nutrition can be improved for people who live with dementia.
Prevention and early intervention of malnutrition in later life: best practice principles and implementation guide
The Malnutrition Task Force have produced a range of guides, each bearing this main title and then focusing on a particular area (such as hospitals, care homes or community). The guides each include detailed attention to the particular needs of people with dementia.