Nutrition and diet tips when caring for someone with dementia

Nutrition and diet tips when caring for someone with dementia

Head of Nutrition and Hydration at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, Sophie Murray, provides her top tips on producing a dietary plan for those living with dementia.

1. Find memory-evoking foods

Certain foods can evoke memories of smells and tastes from the past. Positive memories can trigger appetite and routine. For example, oranges and cinnamon at Christmas, roast chicken on a Sunday and baked bread at lunchtime. Filter coffee at breakfast, home baked bread at lunch and a homemade soup or stew for dinner are all ways to ensure each mealtime has a stimulating smell. It is also a discussion point which then supports engagement and enjoyment.

2. Get on board with the smoothie trend

Nutritionally balanced smoothies, made from fresh ingredients, are a great start to the day! They can have a positive impact on energy levels when used to aid weight gain or post-illness. As they are made with whole foods, ingredients can be selected from key nutrient groups to help create a whole and balanced drink. Carbohydrate from fruit and vegetables, protein from perhaps skimmed milk powder, fats from nuts or added oils and a multitude of colour from carefully selected and flavoursome fruit and vegetables are easy to combine together. Minerals such as calcium and magnesium support energy metabolism and vitamins such as B2, B6 and B12 help release energy from foods. One of my favourites is Caribbean smoothie made from coconut milk, pineapple, kale, ground nuts and lime, and another is also beetroot, apple, mint, spinach, yogurt and blueberries.

3. Consider the dining experience too

It’s not just about the food. Having smaller, intimate dining settings can also benefit those with dementia. Calm, smaller environments with carefully considered music and visual stimulation can really help. A beautifully laid table with familiar items be they gravy boats, familiar salt and pepper shakers, table cloths and place mats may all help create prompts to enjoy, relax and eat.

4. Know that mealtimes are important

Eating meals at the same time each day is a good way to get people socialising with one another. They also provide a great opportunity to support people into routine and punctuate the day, thus reducing chances of weight loss and symptoms of malnutrition. Three meals a day should be adequate to provide sufficient balance although small appetites may require an individual to have snacks in between meals too to sustain health and energy. The Eatwell Guide helps to focus on getting balance in to each meal too, notably ensuring protein is eaten two to three times a day in foods, fibre-rich carbohydrates for sustained energy and natural colour from fruit and vegetables as well as polyunsaturated oils, which can be added to cooked vegetables or salad dressings.

5. Be aware of the texture of food

A late-stage symptom of dementia, called dysphagia, makes it difficult for some individuals to swallow. Sometimes puree or softer foods will be necessary and a specialist Health Professional called a Speech and Language Therapist can assess for this. As those with dysphagia are at much greater risk of weight loss and dehydration, it is important to get the right advice to ensure a balanced diet is consumed.

6. Keep it healthy

This may seem like an obvious point, but studies have indicated that a balanced diet containing B vitamins 6, 9 and 12 can in fact reduce progression in early stage Alzheimer's Disease, the most common form of dementia. Ensuring every meal is nutritious is important to keep the hunger at bay, as this can be exacerbated in those with dementia.

More studies are coming out, indicating benefits of the above nutrients - as well as selenium - for those living with dementia. So there are reasons for believing that diet may help to manage dementia. On a more fundamental level, a balanced diet alone - trying to ensure every meal is nutritious - can support management of energy levels. This can be vital in helping to reduce behaviours associated with hunger, which are often exaggerated in people living with dementia.


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