Helping People With Dementia at Meal Times
Having a balanced diet is important for overall wellbeing. Physical and mental wellbeing are equally as important. At times people living with dementia become increasingly confused and this can impact on diet, by not consuming enough food or drinking enough water. Some complications for people with dementia include forgetting to eat meals, difficulty remembering to chew, or an increased loss of appetite.
It’s most important that caregivers attempt to the best of their ability to encourage eating and drinking for someone with dementia.
Remembering to Eat
If you have dementia or are the carer for someone with dementia, you’ll know that remembering to eat can be an issue. But there are ways to help with this.
Firstly, having snacks that are easy to grab and easy to see. These visual cues should help.
Through experience working with clients who have dementia, memory boards are a great idea too. Having a large clock and a timetable on a board next to the clock can be really helpful.
You could also consider setting a timer on an alarm clock as a reminder to eat. If that’s too distressing, consider phoning through at dinner time and encouraging your loved one to get their meal from the kitchen.
With the best of efforts, sometimes the above isn’t enough. In this case, other measures will need to be implemented. If you or your loved are in receipt of a home care package or similar, accessing home care services for meal assistance maybe possible. Contact your home care package manager for further assistance.
Alternatively, for those who aren’t receiving in home care via a government subsidised service, it might be necessary for family and friends to visit at meal times to help with meal preparation and prompting to eat.
It might be that the time has come whereby you or your loved one require additional help and support either in the home or in a care facility. To help you to arrange an assessment to determine ones eligibility to access aged care services, contact My Aged Care on 1800 200 422.
If you’re providing care and support for someone with dementia, remember that you’re not allowed to force feed somebody. Don’t try and make a person eat. Simply encourage them. If one time of day is not working, change it up and try another time.
It’s often common for people with dementia to experience sundowning, or late-day confusion. Unfortunately, this tends to coincide with dinner time for many people. Aim to provide meals before the person you’re caring for experiences this, or once they’re re-orientated and feeling calm. Aim for a familiar and quiet environment at meal time.
Drinking and Eating Enough
Finding what foods someone likes will be a matter of trial and error. According to the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, if you make food look appealing and provide food that someone likes, they’ll be more likely to eat.
Take note to see if they’re managing to chew and swallow without difficulty and whether they’re handling their cutlery without any issues. This could be the underlying reason for loss of appetite.
Constipation could also be a reason for difficulty with eating. The person may not feel hungry and could also have stomach upset. By offering small meals regularly, encouraging foods high in fibre and ensuring they’re consuming enough water, this issue might be resolved. If constipation persists, please take your loved one to see their G.P.
Drinking plenty of fluid is essential. Having fresh water in water bottles around the house, or glasses of fresh water around the house may visually prompt a person to drink. Water is optimal, but you can offer cordials, milk and other water based drinks such as tea if the person with dementia refuses water.
Someone with dementia might accidentally put the cheese in the cupboard or a can of tomatoes in the freezer. Helping out by regularly checking that foods are being stored in a suitable manner will be very helpful. Also look at things such as expiry dates on packaged items.
Additionally, look at providing frozen meals for ease. By putting cooking instructions on the meals and post-it-note prompts on the fridge, the person you’re caring for will be more likely to prepare the meal safely.
For some people it will get to a point where they need assistance with the above, but until the time comes, consider putting those practices into place.
If you’re caring for someone with dementia and you’re finding that meal preparation and meal times are becoming increasingly challenging, and you’re worried about the person eating enough, it’s a good idea to seek help from a health professional.
If you need further assistance, a dietician or G.P. can help you. You can also call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.