Top tips to combat weight loss from dementia

There are a number of reasons why dementia can lead to weight loss and when you’re caring for a loved one, it can feel scary. Thankfully, implementing a few simple strategies will prevent unintentional weight loss and ensure your family member or friend is getting the nutrition they need.

Every person living with dementia is different, so it’s worth trying a selection of approaches to see what works for your loved one. Changing too many things at once can be overwhelming, so choose one or two things to try at a time until you find the right formula.

Why dementia can lead to weight loss

Dementia is a condition that affects the thinking, memory and behaviour of individuals, which has consequences in all areas of life. As the disease progresses, your loved one’s appetite may change or their ability to eat could become diminished.

Some of the reasons that weight loss is common in those with dementia include:

  • Forget to eat
  • No longer recognising when they’re hungry or full
  • Unable to recognise food
  • Change in appetite
  • Sense of taste is no longer the same
  • Can’t remember how to prepare food
  • They find holding cutlery difficult
  • Problems with swallowing
  • They’ve developed a sweet tooth

Strategies to help with eating

A lot of support is available for those caring for people with dementia, but it’s worth knowing about ways to help your loved one with their eating. What works will depend on the individual, how far the dementia has progressed and their specific symptoms.

Interact about food

It’s very easy to start making decisions for a loved one with dementia without consulting them, but failing to offer them any level of self-governance over food can deplete their interest further. Talk to them about what they’d like to eat, offering choices, and see if they’d like to help with the preparation.

Offer a snack before a meal

If the perosn living with dementia says they’re not hungry, then a small snack can help them to realise they do have an appetite. This can feel counterintuitive before meals, but is often an effective way to get them to eat something more filling.

Experiment with different foods

One of the most difficult things about caring for a loved one living with dementia is seeing a person you’ve known for a long time change in many ways. This can include their tastes in food, preferring things they previously didn’t or shunning what was once a favourite, so experiment to see what appeals to them now.

Avoid distractions

Dedicated meal times can be a useful technique, ensuring the TV is turned off and visitors are out of the way. Being stimulated by other things can distract your loved one from eating and make meals a challenge.

Play calming music

Dementia sufferers can often become distressed, making it harder to encourage them to eat. Music can be a useful tool in calming them down, whether you choose something familiar to them or simply soothing.

Don’t rush meals

Treating meals as a task to be completed can make them feel rushed and less inclined to eat. Take it slowly and try to remember that food can and should be pleasurable. When possible, it’s nice to eat together, turning meal times into a social occasion.

Use plain plates and adapted cutlery

Plates with patterns on can be confusing for those with dementia, making it hard to differentiate between food and the background. Plain crockery and specially adapted cutlery will give your family member or friend the best chance of being able to feed themselves.

Prepare finger food

Bypass cutlery altogether and prepare foods that can be easily eaten with the fingers. This will help your loved one to feed themselves and retain the dignity associated with it. Stay away from things that would cause a mess, as this can often be upsetting for the individual eating.

Rethink food storage

Supporting someone with dementia, especially in its early stages, might involve some small tweaks to the way food is stored. Putting items into clear tubs so they can see what’s inside, pre-cutting foodstuffs and checking that anything out of date is disposed of can facilitate good eating habits.

Up the nutrient and calorie content

Elderly people and those with dementia need more calories than when they’re younger, so it can be worth actively increasing them. This is especially the case if an individual is consuming liquid or pureed foods, where adding milk powder can improve the calorie and nutrient value.


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