For those suffering from dementia or spending a long period in hospital, it can be difficult to ensure they are getting the right food — and enough of it — to ensure a full recovery. A new campaign aims to ensure patients are getting what they need, writ
“Some people can struggle to eat enough throughout the day to meet their nutritional requirements, while others may forget to eat, thinking they have already eaten, or struggle to finish a meal. This can all become more challenging as dementia progresses,” she says.
“People with dementia do not always find adjustment easy — particularly when in hospital with an illness.
“They can forget where they are and why they are actually in hospital. As you can imagine, this can be a very distressing and frightening experience.
“For this reason, it is very important that dementia-friendly environments are created in hospitals to ensure people with dementia are eating properly while they are in hospitals.”
There is a problem, acknowledges Professor Dermot Power, a consultant at the Mater Hospital, specialist in geriatric medicine, and president of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland — and he’s decided to tackle it with a just-launched campaign.
The social media campaign #Dinnertime is about raising awareness of the need to give older patients in the hospital setting, particularly those with dementia, sufficient time and attention to ensure they achieve a good food intake.
“The aim is to increase an awareness of the amount of time and attention that elderly patients need in hospital to ensure they eat sufficiently,” says Prof Power, adding that insufficient food intake in the hospital setting is a problem primarily associated with dementia patients.
“It happens because patients with cognition problems are not able to manage and, from personal observation of the day-to-day reality on the wards, we are seeing that while food can be adequate in terms of content and temperature, it’s being put in front of patients who may not have either the energy or the cognitive ability to feed themselves.
“Meal trays are being put in front of people who do not have the cognition or the physical capacity to feed themselves so the food is going cold,” Prof Power says.
“Staff are often busy doing other tasks and meals are not being eaten.
“What happens to patients in this situation is that their recovery is affected. They can become malnourished and dehydrated, which prolongs their recovery time and their stay in hospital.
“Our hospitals need to become more dementia-friendly, and all staff should have a basic understanding of the needs of dementia,” he adds. “They should understand that these patients may lack the insight to know whether they’re hungry or be aware that they haven’t eaten.
“They need to understand that they are not dealing with someone who is fully in control of their situation and that staff need to observe and assist. People with dementia need to be encouraged and facilitated.”
However, says Prof Power, hospitals have become increasingly aware of the problem, and there has been a move to bring those patients with higher needs together in a dedicated environment.
Dementia-friendly initiatives have been carried out in hospitals such as Mercy University Hospital in Cork as part of the Cork IDEAS ÷ ÷ ÷ ÷ ÷ ÷ ÷ ÷