People with dementia struggle to eat properly

New booklet aims to help
  • Deborah Condon

The majority of people with dementia struggle to eat properly at mealtimes, new research has shown.

According to the findings, 58% of people with dementia forget to eat, while 54% forget that they have eaten already and then eat again.

A further 51% find it difficult to finish meals, while 36% are often too tired to eat.

However, these are not the only problems faced by people with dementia. Some 59% of those with the condition have experienced a change in their sense of taste and 56% in their sense of smell.

A further 56% have greater difficulty chewing, while 44% have problems swallowing food.

The research, which was commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition, also noted that 70% of people with dementia experience weight changes and 60% experience changes in appetite, with some reporting an increase in appetite and others reporting a decrease.

Meanwhile, after a diagnosis of dementia, just 6% of people retrained a role in meal preparation.

In response to this, the Alzheimer Society and Nutricia have published a booklet, Eating Well With Dementia, to help the families and carers of those affected.

The booklet aims to help them to understand how dementia can affect a person's experiences with food. It offer practical tips on how to meet nutritional needs, how to get people with dementia involved in meal preparation and how to deal with weight gain/loss.

Basic tips include:
-Keeping the table setting simple
-Establishing a routine
-Allowing sufficient time to eat
-Being flexible about food choices

"Everyone who has dementia is different. Some people can struggle to eat enough throughout the day to meet their nutritional requirements, while others may forget to eat, thinking they have already eaten, or struggle to finish a meal.

"This can all become more challenging as dementia progresses. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is essential to maintaining good health and following the tips in Eating Well With Dementia will ensure that people are getting all the nutrients that they need," commented Tina Leonard of the Alzheimer Society.

She emphasised that family and friends have a key role to play.

"Some of the tips contained in this booklet include making sure that people with dementia have some company at mealtimes and that mealtimes are sociable and enjoyable events for all of the family. Other simple tips include encouraging people to eat finger food should using cutlery be an issue, or if people like to walk around during meal times," Ms Leonard said.

According to family carer and advocate, Annie McGuinness, this booklet will be a big help to carers who are looking for simple, practical tips to help their loved ones.

"Dementia can affect taste, smell and thirst senses and sometimes people find that not only recognising food can be difficult, but identifying cutlery can be a problem too. So there are lots of little things that we all take for granted that need to be taken into consideration.

"Familiarity and routine play a key role in preparing meals - whether that is going to the same shop to buy food, following the same route around the shop, involving the person in meal preparation and setting the table for the meal. I also find that the use of a prompt is very useful, such as eating lunch when the news is on," she explained.

The booklet can be downloaded here

For more information in the Alzheimer Society, click here


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