Making sure that people living with dementia get enough daily nutrition can be a challenge for those who care for them. It may be that the individual doesn’t want to sit down to eat at mealtimes, forgets to eat or doesn’t recognise food. Sometimes people can’t remember when or how to eat or what utensils are for. Dementia can also affect the part of the brain that controls taste and smell, and people can lose or misinterpret these senses or develop a taste for strong or unusually flavoured foods and drinks.
Here are some ideas to help carers make sure that residents living with dementia get the nutrition and hydration they need, with as much enjoyment as possible.
Tips that can help with common eating issues:
- provide easy to chew, finger-sized food for those who don’t like to sit down to eat, may be agitated or distracted, or don’t want help
- make sure the food options are from the 5 food groups so there is a range of nutrients, available during, and outside mealtimes
- provide a range of menu items for those who find it hard to make choices in advance
- allow plenty of time for meals and offer food often instead of waiting for a person to ask for food
- when a person is holding a spoon or finger food, gently guide their hand to their own mouth (while also reassuring them if necessary) rather than trying to feed them.
Understanding the needs of each person:
- individualise your approach and try different things
- document what works and doesn’t work, as well as what has been tried for each person
- notice non-verbal signs of likes and dislikes.
Some great ideas in action:
- red crockery and contrasting placemats to help identify what table items to use
- menu cards with pictures to help identify food items
- protein and calorie rich snacks, available day and night using a snack fridge and fruit bowl for residents who struggle to eat at mealtimes
- allowing residents to eat while walking or wandering
- a bar arrangement so people can eat and drink while standing
- adding some herbs and spices to make meals and snacks tastier.