Nutrition tips: supporting a person to eat and drink
The amount of advice and information about good nutrition for people with dementia can be overwhelming at times.
While the message to provide “good nutrition” for people with dementia is an important one, it can also place a lot of pressure on you at a time when you may be dealing with so many other challenges.
Maintaining a healthy weight can become more difficult as dementia progresses. Changes to the brain can also have an impact on the person’s ability to eat and drink.
Here are some ideas that might support a person to eat and drink.
Try to offer food at times that work for the person you care for. Lunchtime is often the preference for the main meal, but some people prefer their main meal in the evening or soon after waking in the morning. Changes in sleep patterns can also impact on this.
Little and often
Feeding little and often can be a useful tactic. Concentration issues or problems chewing and swallowing can be tiring for a person and makes eating a heavy task. Try offering finger foods, or smaller portions and snacks throughout the day.
Changes in preference
Some people will start to prefer more salty, spicy, sour or sweet foods. Some may prefer smaller meals more often. Consider what foods will appeal to these changing preferences and go with them.
Give yourself permission to accept that it’s ok for the person to eat a dessert even if a main course isn’t wanted!
Check for discomfort
Oral care is important and helps maintain the ability to eat and can improve taste and appetite. Check there isn’t any pain or infection in the mouth or digestive system which may be reducing appetite or enjoyment of food.
Soft and moist food
Food that needs minimal chewing often works well.
Give gentle reminders
Some people may be distracted and need help to focus their attention. A person may also struggle to know how to get started due to the changes to their brain, and may need a demonstration or verbal prompt to get going.
Know a person’s background
Offer foods which are well liked. Sometimes talking about childhood favourites, recipes and events can stimulate an appetite.
Offering ‘old time favourite’ foods can help improve the amount eaten and make the occasion enjoyable. Mealtimes are an opportunity to be sociable and shouldn’t become a goal orientated, arduous task.
Supporting visual changes
To enable the person to see the food on the plate, use contrasting colours. For example, rice pudding in a white bowl doesn’t work well but rice pudding in a blue or red bowl does. These contrasts can help a person to identify the food or drink.
Avoid plates with flowers or berries printed on them. Due to changes in vision, a person may struggle to distinguish between the real food and the pattern.
Make sure drinks, meals and snacks are within the field of vision. Often items left to the side of someone can’t be seen as dementia changes a person’s visual field.
If you are concerned that the person you care for isn’t drinking enough, consider foods with a high fluid content. Examples include jelly, custard, watermelon, cucumber, gravy and casseroles. These foods all count as hydration.
Whilst for some a coloured cup may help draw the eye and act as a prompt, for others, a clear cup will allow them to see what’s inside. Try to find out which works best for the person you support.
A well-lit room with minimal distractions can be helpful. Try reducing background noises and activities by other people in the room. A relaxed environment can be extremely helpful.
If you are worrying about the amount a person is eating and drinking, be careful not to show this. If a person picks up on your tension and concern they’ll be less likely to eat or drink anything.
Tell us what you think
Please get in touch with us to share your own thoughts about what is “good enough” nutrition. We like to hear your experiences, successes, challenges, questions and stories as these will help many others experiencing similar situations to yourself.
More info on nutrition
- Cooking, eating and drinking
- Learning more about how dementia can affect people’s relationship with food
- Caring about mealtimes and swallowing
- Useful information sheet provided by the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists
Thank you to Marian Naidoo for sharing this suggestions. Marian has been working and supporting people affected by dementia, and learning from them, for a number of years. She has spent the last five years as Services Director for a national charity and works alongside experts in the field of nutrition.