Catering, mealtimes and food when people have dementia

Food and mealtimes present a number of challenges for both dementia sufferers and their carers.

They include both the practical issues of eating and drinking, as well as the impact on physical health and the consequences of depression, loss of appetite and loss of interest in eating.

It is quite common for people in the later stages of dementia to lose weight as eating becomes more difficult and appetite wanes. There is also a risk of becoming dehydrated if they do not drink enough fluids. This can lead to headaches, increased confusion, urinary tract infection and constipation.

Encouraging people to eat means not only ensuring that they have the most user-friendly crockery and cutlery, and help when they need it, but also that the foods they are presented with are both nutritious and attractive to stimulate the appetite.

Solutions need to be tailored to each individual’s needs, for example, if their religious beliefs mean they do not eat certain foods or if they are easily distracted by their surroundings.

Remember, a person with dementia my not realise they are depressed, a common symptom that can lead to loss of appetite. Equally, they may not be able to communicate that they dislike certain foods, or that they have may have problems with their dentures, sore gums or painful teeth.

Catering equipment – tips

Plates should be non-patterned and of a colour that allows the plate to be distinguished from the food and table cloth.

Lightweight cutlery with large handles is easier to handle and control.

Large handles on cups and bowls aid grip and heavy bases minimise tremor and spillage.

While it is helpful to encourage appetite and interest by getting the dementia sufferer to feed themselves, if there are physical limitations that make this difficult carers should ensure there is someone available to feed them.

Encouraging people to eat

Finger foods are helpful for those who struggle with cutlery but can also encourage people to eat at least a little, which may then lead to their being willing to have a proper meal.

Colourful and attractively-arranged food can help to stimulate appetite.

Some people are more likely to eat if they are at a table with others, where the setting is more “social”.  Others may prefer to eat alone. Wherever possible, carers should try to make the dining setting attractive and appropriate for the individual’s preferences.

It may stimulate interest and appetite if people are actually involved in preparing meals, for example by arranging fruit in a bowl, setting tables or sharing memories of favourite foods from their past.

Obviously, the nutritional content of food is important and it may be appropriate to consult a dietician for advice on the best nourishment for the individual being cared for.