Dementia can affect memory, language, thinking skills, attention span, and perception. The loss of these functions can challenge eating and nutrition. Here are some tips to encourage adequate nutrition in someone with dementia:
1. Create the right dining environment
Since people with dementia can be confused and overwhelmed, it’s best to keep mealtime simple and to minimise distractions. A busy table laden with unnecessary crockery, flowers, extra cutlery and multiple foods can cause confusion. Offering one or two foods at a time may increase focus and therefore the amount of food consumed.
Some people benefit from a quiet environment free of televisions, loud music, distracting conversations, areas with increased foot traffic, or windows. Also remember that verbal cues such as ‘It’s time for lunch now, you must be hungry” or the process of preparing food eg. opening containers, taking off lids, and laying a table can help prepare for the process of eating
Finger foods like quartered sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and sliced fruits and vegetables can promote independence during mealtimes if the use of cutlery is a limiting factor.
2. Observe at mealtimes
Someone with dementia may have trouble expressing their needs, therefore observing the foods eaten allows a caregiver to identify likes and dislikes. You may notice that someone always refuses peas or takes beverages from a straw better than a cup. Taking the time to sit and look at how a person functions at mealtimes can give clues to how to plan and tackle their overall care.
3. Follow a routine but if necessary go with the flow
Routine is always important in the life of someone on a dementia journey. Regular mealtimes, eating in the the same place at the same time with the same cutlery and crockery can foster feelings of security and ease. It’s important for any caregiver to expect that mealtimes may take longer or be extra messy. This is normal. It’s also key to bear in mind that someone with dementia is constantly changing. Someone who loved pasta previously may not desire it again. In some cases they may forget that a meal has already happened and insist on having another one. If this happens, make the most of it, if weight loss has been an issue then offer them another meal to boost overall food intake.
4. Focus on high-calorie and high-protein food
- Weight loss can be a serious issue, to build or maintain weight:
- Encourage small frequent meals; i.e., three meals and three snacks a day to help reach calorie goals.
- Add more fat. Fat has the most calories per volume. Each of these equal about 100 calories:
- One tablespoon of butter, mayonnaise, nut butter, or olive oil
- Two tablespoons of avocado, salad dressing, or unsalted nuts
- Offer high-calorie beverages like whole milk, juice, smoothies and lemonade.
- Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals, but relatively low in calories and protein. Add extra fat (see above for ideas) or cheese to vegetables and sugar or honey to fruits to promote weight gain or maintenance.
- Promote protein at every meal and snack. Protein is important to maintain muscle mass, functioning, and strength through aging. Think meat: poultry, seafood, eggs; dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese; or even protein drinks and powders.
Just remember that each person is different and any care must be planned according to the specific needs of that individual.