Dealing with practical issues
"My diet is not as healthy or tasty as I would like but this is not really from choice. I live alone and rely a lot on others doing bits of shopping for me. I have no-one to cook for me so I live off pre-cooked or delivered meals. I eat plenty of vegetables but they are poorly cooked." (Isa)
"I tend to make meals that can be eaten just using a fork or a spoon. Finger foods are popular too. Teresa’s taste-buds have changed. She never used to eat sweet things. I don’t mind so long as she is happy." (Godfrey)
There are no special nutritional requirements for people with dementia. However, they do need to ensure that they have well-balanced and nutritious meals as well as plenty of water or other drin
Some people with dementia find mealtimes stressful due to difficulties handling cutlery and/or forgetting how to use it correctly. Feeling rushed makes the situation even worse. Memory problems may lead to people forgetting to eat or drink, or on the contrary, eating and drinking too much. People with dementia often find that food loses its taste and their sense of smell deteriorates. This can affect their appetite. Certain medication or co-occurring illnesses can also affect appetite. However, prolonged fasting is rarely linked to unpleasant sensations, pain or suffering. In fact, it can lead to a pleasant feeling of inner harmony. This means that people with dementia may be unaware that they are not eating enough.
The above-mentioned difficulties may lead to weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration. Relatives or friends living with people with dementia therefore need to pay particular attention to this and make sure that the person with dementia eats and drinks sufficiently and regularly. People with dementia who live alone are at greater risk of such problems which may go unnoticed for some time.
It is quite common for people with dementia to develop a preference for very sweet food and food with a high fat content. Such foods can lead to the production of serotonin in the brain - a chemical which contributes to a positive mood and also helps prevent weight loss. When preparing food, you could experiment with sweet and/or fatty ingredients to make meals more appetising. For example, you could make a sweet sauce for meat, add honey to sandwiches, put cream in meals and use full fat milk rather than low-fat milk. Certain foods should be avoided as they reduce appetite e.g. hot red peppers, chili, coffee, tea, Coca-Cola and cocoa. Regular use of garlic can lead to weight loss.
Some people find it difficult to drink a lot of water. They find it uninteresting and as it has a very thin consistency, it can lead to minor swallowing difficulties. Peach, pear and banana juices are often popular as they are sweet and have a thicker consistency. Grapefruit juice should be avoided as it can interfere with the processing of medication in the liver.
For the person with dementia
- Make sure that you drink at least 8 glasses of water (or another drink) per day.
- Don’t worry about using cutlery in the wrong way.
- Obtain special tableware if necessary.
If you live alone:
- Try to arrange for assistance with shopping in order to ensure that you have nutritious food in the house.
- Make sure that you eat and drink regularly e.g. cross off meals on a white board, prepare a jug of water to be finished by the end of each day, ask someone to phone and check that you have eaten etc.
- Be creative when preparing food. If you find that your preferences have changed, adapt your cooking and meals accordingly.
- Look into the possibility of “meals on wheels” or assistance preparing meals. Friends could bring you meals in thermos flasks with a wide neck.
- Weigh yourself from time to time and speak to your doctor if you seem to be losing weight.
- Check that the food in your fridge and cupboard is not out-of-date and is still in good condition before using it.
- If you are concerned that you are not eating a balanced diet, complement your meals with meal supplements containing vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
- If you are finding it difficult to maintain a balanced diet, ask for assistance e.g. from your social services department, your doctor etc.
For the carer
- Try to create a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere at meal times.
- Be more tolerant with regard to correct table manners.
- When laying the table, aim for colour contrasts so that each item is easily recognisable.
- If the person with dementia will only eat a limited range of food, try to add nutritional supplements e.g. in the form of nutritional drinks.
- Use food preferences creatively in order to encourage the person with dementia to eat a variety of foods.
- Avoid serving food or drinks that are too hot as people with dementia don’t always recognise the warning signs such as sizzling or steam.
- Monitor how much the person with dementia is eating and drinking. If this is insufficient, encourage them to eat and drink more and regularly.
Last Updated: Friday 11 September 2009