Eating Well with Dementia: A carers’ guide

Last year I worked with colleagues who designed an evidence based guide providing practical, everyday eating and drinking advice for people caring for a relative or friend living with dementia who may have had the illness for a number of years.

The guidance is written by registered dietitians, the original work being developed by a registered dietitian from NHS Lanarkshire. The guidance does not substitute or replace personalised advice provided by your healthcare team but it may be of interest to you.

We would always advocate that you speak to your dietitian, doctor, nurse or allied health professional (occupational therapist, physiotherapist, podiatrist or speech and language therapist) for further advice on diet, nutrition or related cultural/social health matters. Also if you have lost a lot of weight over the past 3-6 months and/or have not been eating well for more than a week, we would recommend you consider speaking to your GP for advice.

The guide is made up of eleven different sections and this week blog has a focus on a section on “Eating Habits” on pages 10-11 and the Summary on page 22. We have included details at the end of the blog how to access the full guide.

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Eating Habits

What if food favourites change?

People with dementia often experience changes in their food preferences. The dementia can change how flavours are recognised. Taste and sense of smell also changes naturally with age. People may enjoy or even prefer strong or spicy foods that they used to dislike. Foods that may now be enjoyed include lasagne, curry, chilli or pizza.

Keep an open mind:

  • don’t exclude any food and try a wide variety until you find what the person enjoys now
  • childhood favourites that link to older memories may be appreciated
  • try to keep a list of current preferences and re-try foods from time to time.
  • Try adding spices, herbs, onion, garlic, chilli, pepper, lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce to enhance flavours.
  • Avoid adding extra salt, especially if the person has vascular dementia as this can influence blood pressure.
  • Offer table sauces, chutney, pickles and relishes, vinegar, mustard, salad dressings or tomato ketchup, as appropriate.
  • Try to keep the table setting simple and don’t clutter it with bottles and jars.

 

What if sweet foods are preferred?

It can be difficult to encourage healthy food choices when a person only wants to eat sweet foods. However, with a little planning, sweet and sweetened foods can provide the nutrition needed.

  • Try naturally sweet vegetables such as carrots, sweetcorn, turnip, sweet potato, peppers or peas.
  • Vegetables provide a wide range of vitamins and fibre essential for good health. Add a drizzle of honey for extra sweetness before serving.
  • Try adding a little sugar to mince, stew or potatoes. If weight gain is a problem, try a granulated sweetener instead.
  • Use sweet and sour sauce or serve food with sweet sauces, pickles or chutneys such as apple, redcurrant, cranberry, sweet chilli, ketchup.
  • Encourage milk-based pudding because these are a good source of protein, energy and calcium. Try:
    • custard and stewed fruit, rice pudding, mousse, trifle, whipped desserts, ice-cream, crème brûlée, crème caramel, evaporated milk or cream with canned or fresh fruit
    • adding a small amount of maple or golden syrup, jam or honey to increase the sweetness of fruit or puddings, if needed.

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Remember

  1. Always follow any personalised guidance provided by your health care team.
  2. Eating and drinking is important for everyone’s health and well-being.
  3. Make mealtimes a shared activity.
  4. Stay open-minded about food choices and try to provide healthy versions of favourite foods.
  5. Keep table settings simple and use adapted cutlery, plain coloured plates and plate warmers as needed.
  6. If someone only eats small amounts, provide 5-6 small meals or snacks a day, adding extra nourishment if required.
  7. If someone is overeating, try to reduce portion sizes and offer lower-calorie snacks.
  8. Make sure the person with dementia is hydrated. Aim for at least 6-8 cups (1½-2 litres or 4 pints) of fluid a day.
  9. Keep the person with dementia’s mouth healthy by making sure that their teeth and/or dentures are brushed twice a day.

On reflection

We would welcome any comments you have on this blog post and also welcome ideas on what kind of information about diet and nutrition would you find most useful and how would you like to access this information? 

You can download a full copy of the document here : http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Health/Services/Mental-Health/Dementia/Dementia

You can order hard copies here with a small charge for postage and packaging.

http://www.ndr-uk.org/vmchk/EDS/Eating-Well-with-Dementia-a-guide-for-carers.html

This blog post has been supported by Nutrition and Diet Resources UK (NDR-UK, www.ndr-uk.org).

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