The Only Thing I Love More Than Talking About Food, is Eating
We all have our preferences when it comes to food, from being choosey about certain food groups, how we like it cooked, to how it’s seasoned.
My husband will label me as a fussy eater; as I don’t like a lot of vegetables, have preferences as to how certain food groups are cooked and, god forbid, if my beans touch my scrambled egg at breakfast time! To me though, I do not feel that I am fussy, I am just vocal with what I want. When cooking for a significant other or family member, it is important to incorporate the other persons preferences, to make sure that they eat and enjoy their dinner. Mealtimes are for enjoyment as well as eating nutritious food, to encourage good health.
The Fondest Memories are Made Gathered Round the Table
There are many different factors that could make eating more difficult for a person living with Dementia. This includes deteriorating eyesight, perception, health problems and changes in taste. As Dementia progresses, some people will find that their eyesight deteriorates or changes significantly, which can affect eating. Tunnel vision from loss of peripheral sight can occur, meaning that the person may seem that they only eat one part of the food that is on offer on the plate. A way of overcoming this, would be to move the plate around, so that the next piece of food is visually on offer.
A person’s perception may have changed, meaning that a busy tablecloth will distract them from eating their food. By using a plain tablecloth with plain, contrasting-coloured plates/cutlery the person will be able to see the food more clearly. A good example is to imagine being served a rather boring meal with a tablecloth decorated in exotic fruit. A person with Dementia may try to pick up the fruit, as it looks realistic and tastier than the boring meal being offered to them.
Eating is a necessity, but cooking is an art
Is the food visually appetising? Is the food hot and does it smell appealing? Has the food got a good level of flavour? And finally, is the food made up of various colours and textures? Imagine being served cauliflower cheese, poached white fish and mash on a plain white plate, and answer the above questions. For me, and I believe for those that are reading this blog, they would not want to eat this meal as it is not appetising and quite bland.
By choosing a variety of different coloured foods with various textures, that have good levels of flavour and served on an appropriate plate, a person with Dementia will be more likely to eat and enjoy the food that they are served – Just like we would too!
I hate being rushed; it will not make me move faster
Imagine being so so hungry from a busy day, ordering your food and then being rushed to eat it quickly? Also imagine not being able to speak up and say “Hey! Give me some more time!”. Imagine somebody taking it away before you have even finished it. Imagine being in pain and unable to tell someone that you are sore and being served difficult to eat food. Aren’t those thoughts just awful! Unfortunately, the examples above happen every day within the health and social care sector.
A person with Dementia needs to be encouraged to eat their food and given time to eat at their own pace, sometimes with encouragement. A one-to-one ratio of carer/person with dementia is preferred as this will cut down on distractions and allow the carer to give their full attention to the person that needs it most.
If you have concerns about a person you are supporting that has suddenly slowed down when eating, you will need to investigate this further. This could be due to tooth pain, constipation or other pain that will impact eating. By ensuring regular dental hygiene is followed, regular checks of the mouth and offering appropriate textured foods if the person has dental issues; the likelihood of dental pain being the problem with eating will be minimised.
The tradition of the Sunday feast accomplishes more than just feeding us. It nurtures us” Chef John Besh.
Eating is a social experience. Remember Sunday roasts? Christmas Dinner? Curry nights? Birthday dinners? meals out as a family? wedding breakfasts? And just the general weeknight dinners spent at the dining table with your family when you were younger. Social skills are picked up from a young age through eating together, including eating with a knife and fork, not eating with your mouth open and elbows off the table. Food preferences would have been decided at a young age too! When Dementia progresses, a person may go back to a younger period in their life, meaning that some social skills are lost and tastes change. I think it can be difficult for families when seeing a loved one being offered and then eat food that they may have previously declined. It shows a big change in preferences and may be difficult for families to see. Tastes change, for example, a life-long vegetarian may now want to eat meat. If the person is offered food that they like to eat, then I say let them have it!
Carers should be encouraged to eat with the person they are caring for, to replicate mealtimes from the past. Eating together will be more successful, as the person with Dementia will take cues from watching the carer eat their food. If a person has lost the skills of using a knife and fork, then, finger food should be provided. Finger food may not be as nutritionally sound; however, it is important for the person with Dementia to maintain a healthy weight and to be happy, rather than being underweight, and showing signs of frustration due to not being able to eat.
Not like that, like this!
If you support a person with Dementia who used to be a chef or used to be a cook for a living, why not support them to contribute to making the evening meal? Simple tasks such as peeling vegetables and mixing can be therapeutic for the person with Dementia, allowing them to make a meaningful contribution to a daily task, and build up a rapport with staff/family. It becomes a common assumption that people are not able to do the things they used to because they have dementia, but this is not true and enabling a person to carry on doing tasks they have always done can help to boost their self-esteem and it might even make them feel like eating more because they have contributed to the meal.