Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Gillian and I currently work in the mental health service within Lanarkshire. I have been a Dietitian for the past 19 years. I also represent the British Dietetic Association, the professional body for dietitians, as part of the Alzheimer Scotland allied health professional dementia forum.
So what do Dietitians do?
Often what we do is misunderstood and it can be difficult to know when you need to see us. Dietitians are part of a wider group of health care professionals known as allied health professionals or AHPs. As a dietitian I work with people to give practical advice about their nutrition. Television, social media, newspapers and magazines are full of advice on what you should and shouldn’t eat. As a dietitian I work to filter out the noise and inaccurate advice to make sure you are given the right information.
As part of my work I see people who are affected by dementia for a range of conditions which may have an impact on their health and wellbeing. Advice can be for issues that are directly caused by their dementia or for other health conditions a person may have. No two people are the same and this is also the case for how their dementia is affecting their life and nutrition needs.
One minute I can be giving someone with a poor appetite advice on how they can get the nutrition they need by changing the type of foods they are eating. The next I could be giving advice on how to help manage diabetes with what someone eats. But it doesn’t stop there. We also advise on a whole range of health conditions that can be affected by what we eat such as diverticular disease or anaemia. Sometimes a bit of problem solving is needed to make sure the advice fits the person. Every day is different!
Who do I work with?
In my job I work with people who have been affected by different types of dementia including people with early onset dementias. I do this as part of a wider team which can include nurses, doctors, psychologists, social workers and social care staff. It can also include other allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists. An example of this is when someone is having difficulty swallowing. After assessment by a Speech and Language Therapist, recommendations are made whether any changes are needed to the texture of food and drinks taken. I can then work with this information, and the person, to advise what food or drink they can have to meet these recommendations.
At times I also provide advice to voluntary groups such as lunch clubs, catering departments in hospitals or sheltered housing complexes. If someone has dietary needs they may need the people around them to be given advice, as I dietitian I can help to provide education and suggest practical changes.
Where do I work?
During my working day I will see people in a range of locations from their own home to local day services, community clinics or in hospital. Sometimes people choose to be seen on their own. If they prefer I can also work with their family, friends or care services. Although I work in healthcare, it might surprise you to hear that dietitians are also in public health nutrition. Here they advise on policies and guidelines that affect the health of the general public. Some dietitans also work in private practice and in the food industry.
How can you access a Dietitian?
In general people are referred to see a dietitian by their GP, nurse or other health professional. You can also look for a dietitian who practice on a private basis by searching on https://freelancedietitians.org
It is important you ask for help if you are worried that what you are eating and drinking is not enough. If you have noticed you have lost a lot of weight without trying over 3-6 months, you should also ask for advice. Speak to your health professional and ask whether a referral to a Dietitian would be helpful.
Sometimes you may not need to see a Dietitian but might find some of the information we have developed useful. The British Dietetic Association’s website has a section called Food Facts, which provides information on a range of nutrition topics and can be found at https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/home.
The NDR-UK leaflet ‘Eating well with Dementia – A carers guide’ also provides a variety of information on common issues with eating a drinking that people may experience in moderate to later stages of their dementia. A copy can be accessed at: www2.gov.scot/Topics/Health/Services/Mental-Health/Dementia/Dementia
Another good source of information is on twitter @AHPDementia where dietitians provide hints and tips for daily life alongside other allied health professionals.
Specialist Dietitian – Mental Health, NHS Lanarkshire