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How Can I Keep Good Nutrition when Living with Dementia?

There are certain aspects of life that many of us take for granted. As small children we master the arts of walking, talking and eating independently, early on. What we have come to think of as fairly basic, or primal tasks often become significantly more complicated for people living with dementia. Depending on the stage of the dementia, maintaining a healthy nutritional balance can present a challenge.


But why does maintaining a healthy nutritional lifestyle get harder and is there anything carers can do to help?


Why can nutrition and staying healthy become harder for someone living with dementia?


There are a number of common difficulties that people living with dementia might start to face when it comes to maintaining their nutritional health - especially when their dementia becomes more advanced. Changes in memory, appetite and even food preferences can all play a part in making mealtimes more challenging for everyone involved. Living with dementia naturally means that your brain starts to function differently. This can result in:

  • Reduced motivation to eat

  • Difficulty concentrating for long enough to finish a meal

  • Forgetting to eat, or whether you’ve eaten

  • Problems recognising hunger or thirst cues

  • Difficulties with preparing and then eating a meal independently

  • Changes to food preferences

  • Struggling to recognise types of food, resulting in reluctance to eat

  • Being unable to recognise when you’re full



Why is it so important to maintain a good level of nutrition?


Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between agile brain function and what we put into our bodies. Good nutritional habits - such as, drinking enough water, eating enough oily fish, fruit and vegetables have been linked with the body’s ability to regulate itself and maintain better mental health.


Lacking certain vitamins and minerals can have an adverse effect on anyone. In fact, significantly reduced levels of Vitamin D can even increase your risk of developing dementia. Having a balanced diet has a huge impact on our general health and well-being. It is particularly important for those living with dementia - adding to overall quality of life and even slowing the progress of certain dementias.



How can I help my loved one to stay nutritionally healthy when they’re living with dementia?


Witnessing someone you love decline in health due to lack of proper hydration or nutrition is extremely worrying. As a Carer, it’s entirely normal for you to feel frustrated, sad and even angry that mealtimes have suddenly become a battleground. Here are some tips on how to reduce the pressure around food and drink and make mealtimes a more pleasurable experience for everyone concerned.

  • Create a more dementia-friendly eating environment by reducing possible distractions, introducing high contrast tableware and promoting a relaxed atmosphere.

  • If your loved one expresses a preference for stronger flavours or sweeter foods, try adding spices, honey or other natural sweeteners to meals.

  • If using cutlery is causing problems, try introducing finger foods to help your loved one to maintain control of their own dining experience.

  • Encourage regular water intake throughout the day - small sips from a preferred cup or glass helps to prevent dehydration.



A final thought


Continuing to enjoy mealtimes with dignity is crucially important to living well with dementia. While adaptations can feel initially uncomfortable, small adjustments will make a powerful difference to both people living with dementia and their families. Mealtimes are often a social occasion and being able to enjoy them together is a big part of what makes us human.


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