The effect of dementia on eating and drinking – advice and support
Food plays an important role in our lives, and a healthy diet gives us strength, energy and helps to reduce our risk of infection.
It can be upsetting to see a person lose interest in food. There are a number of reasons why someone with dementia may not eat and drink as much as they typically would do.
Within this blog, we will look at some of the most common reasons why a person with dementia may not want to eat or drink, as well as steps you can take to help them eat or drink more than they currently are.
Why isn’t someone with dementia eating or drinking as much as usual?
There are various factors that can affect the eating and drinking patterns of someone with dementia. These include the following:
- Problems with coordination – a person may find preparing food more difficult, and may also struggle to use cutlery or pick up a glass
- Chewing and swallowing – they may forget to chew, place too much food in their mouth or even find their dentures, gums or teeth painful. Being too fatigued or not sitting upright can also cause problems with swallowing
- Identifying and communicating hunger or thirst – a person may be unaware of their hunger or thirst, they may find it difficult to tell someone they want food or a drink, or struggle to inform people of their likes and dislikes
- Recognising food and drink – someone with dementia may not recognise the food or drink in front of them, particularly if it is presented differently, or if it is unfamiliar. If they have troubles with their sight, this may also have an effect
- Difficulty concentrating – a person may become distracted, especially if they are tired or if the meal is large - they may simply give up
- Depression – a lack of eating and drinking can be a sign of depression
- Medication or dosage change – additions or changes to medication can result in changes to a person’s appetite
- Lack of physical activity – a person may not have much of an appetite or feel hungry if they haven’t been very active during the day
Steps to take when someone with dementia is not eating or drinking
There are ways in which you can help to increase a person’s appetite, as well as their interest in food and drink.
It is important to note that while having difficulties with eating and drinking are common with dementia, any trouble a person is having with food and drink will be unique to them and their circumstances. Take into account their personality, likes and dislikes, past and culture when looking to find solutions, to ensure that you are able to meet their needs and preferences.
Below are a few tips that may be useful when looking to help a person with dementia eat or drink more:
- Make meal times an enjoyable experience – let the person be involved in getting the meal ready, either by helping to prepare food or setting the table so they feel included and are prepared to eat. Also make sure meal times are quiet and calm, without lots of noise or disruption
- Try different foods and flavours – you may want to introduce more soft food if they seem to be leaving those that are harder to chew. As food tastes change, you may also want to experiment with stronger or sweeter tasting dishes. Don’t stop a person from eating food in a different order to usual – let them eat their dessert first, if that’s what they’re reaching for
- Serve small frequent meals – you may want to serve half-portions if you find that food is being left uneaten. Also try finger food, such as sandwiches, fruits or biscuit bars, which the person can carry round and eat if they become hungry. Finger food can also be a helpful way to encourage independence, as well as reducing a person’s frustration, particularly if using utensils is becoming more difficult
- Get the right exercise and sleep – regular activity can see a person become hungrier at meal times, and good quality sleep can mean that they are less tired when it is time to eat
If someone doesn’t want to eat, try again a bit later. If you are worried about a person’s eating or drinking patterns, and they are losing weight, it is important to speak to their GP. They can prescribe suitable medication or provide advice. They may also be able to refer you to a dietician for information on how to improve the diet of someone with a small appetite.
Dementia care homes across the UK
At Priory Adult Care, we understand how important it is to find the right care home for a loved one with dementia. Within our safe, comfortable and homely environments, we offer the highest standard of person-centred care to people with dementia. With respite and short term care available, as well as dementia care, residential and nursing homes for longer term stays, we are able to provide the right support and care that is tailored around the person and their family.
If you would like to find out more about our care homes, you can make an enquiry online. You can also call us today on 0808 301 2008 to speak to someone directly.