Dementia and nutrition
When caring for someone with dementia, it’s important to understand how you can support them to enjoy meals and eat well. It may also be helpful to understand how to deal with difficulties they might face as time goes on. We hope you will find some of these tips and guidance helpful.
Supporting the person you care for
If you care for someone with dementia, you may be aware that their eating habits seem different from before. Over time, they may find drinking and eating certain foods more trying.
The changes differ from person to person. One individual may gain weight while someone else may lose weight or just be affected by dehydration.
This can be upsetting and confusing, but understanding how you can take steps to help the person you care for enjoy their food more and get the nutrients they need can give more peace of mind.
There are some simple ways that you can help a person with dementia to enjoy meal times and get the best from their diet.
Someone you care for with dementia may struggle to eat for a variety of reasons and this can lead to weight loss.
They may lose weight unintentionally for reasons such as having a poor appetite, issues with coordination, having problems chewing or swallowing or because of taste changes.
There are some practical tips to help improve their nutritional intake in our caring and nutritional guidance section.
Here are some suggestions:
- Be flexible with mealtimes and make the most of ‘good eating times.’ Different people will have more of an appetite at certain times of the day, whether this is breakfast or teatime.
- Offer small portions of food, more frequently throughout the day.
- Try not to overload the plate with too much food and have a gap between the main meal and dessert.
- Include foods that are both familiar to the person and also new, adventurous foods that they may not have had before.
- You could make meals look appetising and eye-catching by including different colours, such as a bowl of chopped fruit or mixed vegetables.
Make finger foods that are easy to pick up and can be eaten without using cutlery. These are ideal for people who have difficulty using cutlery or for those that are restless and like to walk around at mealtimes. Suggestions include:
- small sandwiches or crackers with soft cheese
- potato wedges or chunky chips (homemade can be both tastier and healthier)
- chicken breast cut into pieces, fish fingers, meatballs, cocktail sausages or sausage rolls
- hard-boiled egg (quartered)
- slices of fruit cake, scones, teacakes or hot cross buns
- orange segments, slices of apples or bananas, seedless grapes.
As dementia progresses, a person’s likes and dislikes for different foods may change. Some people may start to enjoy unusual food combinations, such as mixing sweet and savoury flavours. Here are some tips to help:
- Serve sweet sauces (e.g. apple sauce) with a main meal to add sweetness.
- Be adventurous and cook new dishes with herbs and spices.
- Roast vegetables such as carrots and parsnips with honey.
- Use sweeter dressings like balsamic vinegar mixed with olive oil.
A healthy, balanced diet is vital for us all. Enjoying foods from all the different food groups is important to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs.
Studies have shown that certain combinations of nutrients may help to support healthy brain function. These nutrients include healthy fats, such as omega-3 fish oils, vitamins and minerals, which can be found in the following foods:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables to provide a good source of vitamins and minerals
- nuts, seeds and olive oil to provide a variety of healthy fats
- oily fish to provide a good intake of fish oil, which is rich in omega-3 (at least twice a week if possible)
- vegan foods that offer a good source of omega-3 include kidney beans, walnuts and edamame beans.
For those who find it difficult to get adequate nutrition from a normal diet alone, there are other options. One way of getting adequate nutrients is through a scientifically formulated liquid food that is available in the form of a drink containing energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
There are also varieties available for specific types of dementia, such as the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Speak to your pharmacist to find out more about these.
Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK provide a range of resources to help support those with dementia related illnesses with advice and recommendations for carers, close friends and family members:
You could also contact our Carers UK Helpline for advice and information from our advisers by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org