Nutrition and Dementia: Tips for Care Givers
Eating and drinking is something we all do every day, often without a second thought. But what happens when the people we love experience behavioural, emotion or physical changes that completely change their relationship with food?
Many people living with Dementia experience symptoms such as a poor appetite, chewing and swallowing problems, and coordination problems that impact their eating and drinking. As a result, these changes can lead to weight changes, increased risk of falls, general decline, and bowel issues.
Understandably, these changes can be extremely distressing and challenging for the carers of people living with Dementia. Here are some ways that carers can help their loved ones enjoy mealtimes and get the most out of their diet.
Managing a poor appetite:
- Offer small portions, frequently across the day. Sometimes a large plate of food can appear overwhelming and unattainable.
- Prepare and serve favourite foods. Eating the foods we enjoy can help stimulate our appetite- even if that means serving cereal for afternoon tea!
- Prioritise the protein portion of the plate such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy. Protein is important for preventing muscle loss and maintaining strength and independence.
- Sweeter foods may be preferred. Try adding honey to vegetables or adding sweet sauces, such as apple sauce, to main meals. Sauces also provide extra energy to prevent weight loss and maintain energy!
Managing co-ordination challenges:
- If using cutlery becomes difficult, try placing the cup or utensil in the persons hand and eat along with them as a mirror.
- Offer finger foods. This offers a great alternative to foods that require cutlery to help maintain independence. Finger food examples include cut up sandwiches, chicken tenders, fish fingers, meatballs, sausage rolls, piece of cake, biscuits, slices of fruit.
Managing chewing/swallowing difficulties:
- Try soft foods and adding extra sauces and gravies to meals if chewing or swallowing appears to be an issue.
- Consider referral to a Speech Pathologist. A Speech Pathologist will be able to help you provide your loved ones with foods and drinks that are safe and easy to consume.
Managing the meal-time environment:
- Allow plenty of times for meals and snacks.
- Keep the table setting simple and limit distractions
It can be difficult for the person to decide what to eat among the food on the plate- try offering only 1-2 food options at a time.
Finally, remember that you are not alone!
Here at Optimum Intake, we have a team of dietitians that work closely with people living with Dementia and their carers. If you are worried about your loved ones eating and drinking, or you have noticed weight changes, book in for an appointment with one of our Accredited Practicing Dietitians.