How to promote a balanced diet in people with dementia

A balanced diet is crucial way of maintaining health and consequently improving quality of life. People with dementia often experience challenges with eating and drinking well, making it important to support them with this process. A balanced diet can help maintain their physical and mental wellbeing, as eating and drinking well helps prevent illness and provides the energy needed to function day to day.

Common eating problems for people living with dementia

There are some common problems that people with dementia suffer from in relation to their relationship with food and drink; however every person’s situation is different so it’s important to take into account individual factors as well. One of the main problems concerning dementia patients eating habits is poor appetite; this can be caused by a variety of reasons including depression, medication and a lack of movement during the day, often leading to weight loss.

Issues concerning mental abilities include being able to recognise food and drink due to damage to the brain or sight difficulties. Concentration can also be a big issue, don’t assume somebody is finished because they’ve stopped eating for while, and instead encourage them to continue.

Physical problems include issues with coordination, where patients may find it difficult to handle cutlery or glassware. To help counter this you can chop food up into smaller pieces or acquire special aides such as non-spill cups. Another physical problem is chewing and swallowing, good dental hygiene can help, and providing softer foods can also make eating easier.

Different eating environments

As everybody knows from experience, the place in which you eat plays a key role in how you enjoy the experience. A positive environment can encourage good eating and influence health and wellbeing. Try to make the environment as appealing as possible, staying with the person while they eat, using bright colours, playing soft music and not rushing can contribute to creating the perfect eating environment. A dementia patient may be struggling to eat due to their illness, controlling the environment ensures things aren’t worse than they need to be. If somebody is living alone with dementia, they may struggle to prepare meals or forget about food altogether. Simple things such as reminder notes around the house, easy to cook ready meals and services such as ‘meals on wheels’ can provide the extra support the person needs.

Social Interaction with people living with dementia

Don’t underestimate the positive impact that social interaction can have when suffering from dementia. Inviting somebody to come and cook with you can help maintain interest in food and drink and also help the person feel as though they’re still independent and able to care for themselves. However don’t push them to do too much, make sure you’re knowledgeable of their limits as it can be extremely frustrating to start a task and not be able to finish it.

Remember that particularly with an illness such as dementia each patient has different requirements, and will be at different stages of the illness. Make sure you’re adaptable so that you can promote healthy and regular eating in the most appropriate way possible.