DINING WITH DEMENTIA
Some 800,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia and, shockingly, studies show that up to half of them are likely to end up suffering from malnutrition. I know through those who visit my clinic how dementia can affect a patient’s desire and ability to eat. And through my father, I’ve learnt first-hand how nutritional wellbeing is not yet a high enough priority within the health service: no one treating him has yet addressed the issue of his diet.
Difficulties that can arise include lack of appetite because of low mood or, conversely, overeating and weight gain because the patient can forget they have already eaten. The ability to judge temperature may disappear, meaning that food served too hot can burn lips and throats. Chewing and swallowing become harder when physical skills such as keeping our mouths closed diminish. Constipation through lack of fluid or fibre, or as a side-effect of drug treatment, often has an impact. These simple strategies are designed to help those diagnosed with dementia and their carers to cope.
KEEP CALM A regular routine is reassuring and eating at the same times of day at the same table may help avoid upsets. This can be isolating for carers, for whom eating is more pleasurable when flexible and sociable. One way around this is to feed the person you are caring for in the usual way, and then eat separately afterwards.
SLOW DOWN Carers are juggling so many tasks that it can be tempting to hurry meals, but the result can be that mealtimes become stressful and less gets eaten.
TAKE OFF THE PRESSURE When concentration needs to be maximised to get fork to mouth and to avoid choking,
it can help not to have the television or radio on, so I advise minimising distractions. However, I have some patients who find that listening to meditative music can de-stress a challenging mealtime. And if the person you are looking after is finding it all too much, a plate of something easy to nibble such as sandwiches or cut-up soft fruits while they sit in a comfy chair watching their favourite programme may be the answer. Don’t be frightened to experiment.
TEMPTING TACTICS Often the less we eat, the less we fancy eating. Malnutrition can kick in, which can lead to myriad problems including pressure sores and depression. The first step in trying to avoid this is to employ some tempting tactics – does the person you are caring for enjoy favourite family recipes? The smell, taste and look of tried-and-trusted dishes from the past can trigger a desire to eat and provide vital nourishment.
CREATE A FOOD MOODBOARD Often memories are linked to foods we loved eating on happy occasions. A personal food moodboard made up of photographs of dishes, people and places can be a great way to stimulate a jaded appetite.
BECOME A NUISANCE If your friend or relative is in a care home and you are concerned he or she is not eating well, insist they are given support and, if necessary, ask if you can bring in food.
STICK TO A BALANCED DIET Some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help to slow down the progress of dementia, so do serve a couple of portions of oily fish a week. But most importantly, ensure a balanced diet of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. My website has many quick, easy recipes to inspire and make feeding and eating easier for patients and their carers. I’ve done it all for you, so please enjoy!