At Independent People Homecare, we understand a person living with dementia may experience difficulties with eating and drinking, therefore it’s important to remember there are a variety of things that you can do to support them. Our eating and drinking tips with Dementia guide draws on our wide experience of caring and supporting those living with Dementia. Offering solutions, making adaptations and increasing your knowledge will mean that you can support the person living with dementia to eat and drink well.

Why have they lost weight? 

A person living with dementia may lose weight due to a variety of reasons. Problems in chewing and swallowing or coordination problems can make eating difficult and put people off their food. Mental health issues can be a common occurrence in those suffering from chronic illnesses, with the onset of depression becoming more likely  when someone has been recently diagnosed; this in itself can contribute to loss of appetite. Some people may like to walk around a lot which will use more energy and could start losing weight if they do not increase the amount that they eat.

They are having problems chewing and swallowing. What can I do to help? 

Those living with Dementia may struggle to communicate that they have a sore mouth or gums or even have ill-fitting dentures which can make it difficult and painful to eat.

As dementia progresses, swallowing difficulties (called dysphagia) become more common. If a person is having difficulty with swallowing, a referral to a speech and language therapist can help. Difficulties can include holding food in the mouth, continuous chewing, and leaving foods that are harder to chew on the plate.

How do I stimulate a poor appetite?

As dementia progresses, a person’s likes and dislikes for food may change. This can affect the amount and variety of foods eaten.

  • Offer small portions of food, more frequently throughout the day
  • Be flexible with mealtimes. Some people with Dementia will have more of an appetite at certain times of the day, whether this is breakfast or teatime
  • Make meals look appetising  nd include a variety of colour such as a bowl of chopped fruit or mixed vegetables.
  • Try not to overload the plate with too much food
  • Leave a gap between the main meal and dessert
  • Include foods that are familiar to the person

I’m worried about them living alone – what can I do to help them?

Those who live alone may often struggle to prepare meals or food may spoil and be forgotten. It’s important to consider that if the person is struggling with eating and drinking, it may be a sign they need more care and support which is where our visiting home carers and living in carers can help.

Here are a few tips to help those living alone:

  • Buy ready made meals as they require little preparation.
  • Consider having their meals delivered. Contact your local council or Alzheimer’s Society to see what is available in your area as they may be able to have a week’s supply of ready meals delivered direct to their home.
  • Shop online! A relative or friend can order on their behalf but it’s important to make sure the food ordered is what the person would want.
  • Simple notes about where food is, and pictures, may help – eg a picture of a sandwich on the fridge.
  • Use simple instruction to help them prepare, cook or reheat food for themselves – eg ‘microwave on high for 3 minutes’.
  • Consider arranging one of our homecare workers to help the person with eating and drinking and meal preparation

What food can I prepare if they have difficulty using cutlery? 

This can make mealtimes a challenge and take the pleasure out of eating and drinking. Finger foods are easy to pick up and can be eaten without using cutlery. These are ideal for people who have difficulty with their co-ordination or for those who like to walk around at mealtimes.

  • Small finger sandwiches or crackers with soft cheese
  • If the person is struggling with a knife and fork, chop up their food so it can be eaten with a spoon
  • hard-boiled egg (quartered)
  • potato wedges or chunky chips
  • Cocktail sausages, chicken breast cut into pieces, slices of quiche, fish fingers, meatballs, or sausage rolls
  • Slices of fruit cake, tea cakes or scones
  • Slices of apples or bananas, seedless grapes or orange segments
  • You may need to help the person by guiding their hand to their mouth to remind them of the process involved
  • Speak to an occupational therapist about specially adapted cutlery, lipped (high-sided) plates or non-spill cups.

Why have their food preferences changes? 

As dementia progresses, their tastes for different foods may change. Some people may start to enjoy unusual food combinations, such as mixing sweet and savoury flavours.

  • Add sweet sauces (e.g. applesauce) with a main meal to add sweetness
  • Add a teaspoon of sugar or honey to savoury foods such as quiches, pies and omelettes
  • Roast vegetables such as carrots and parsnips with honey.

How do I ensure they eat a healthy balanced diet?

Studies have shown that certain combinations of nutrients including healthy fats, such as omega-3 fish oils, vitamins and minerals may help to support healthy brain function. These nutrients can be found in the following foods:

  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables including leafy greens
  • Twice weekly intakes of oily fish to provide a good intake of fish oil, which is rich in omega-3
  • Nuts, seeds and olive oil to provide a variety of healthy fats
  • Wholegrain food

What happens if food isn’t enough?

Contact your local GP or pharmacist and ask about Medical nutrition. This is a scientifically formulated liquid food that is available in the form of a drink containing energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. There are also options available for specific types of dementia, such as the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information on the wide range of home care services offered by our care agency, or to discuss the unique needs of you or your loved one, please contact Independent People Homecare today on 0808 250 4091.