An individual with dementia may have problems with eating and drinking, and it may also be difficult for their carer to encourage them to maintain a healthy diet. There are two main complications when it comes to eating and drinking for someone with dementia. “Number one: people lose weight with dementia. Number two: they don’t keep to the usual meal times” says Dr Warner. “It’s really important that someone with dementia isn’t kept to rigid breakfast, lunch and dinner.” He says that having food that is really easy to digest and easy to eat is vital.
He also mentions that “finger food can be helpful if a full meal is difficult'', as the individual with dementia may not be able to use a knife and fork. They also tend to develop a change in appetite or taste. In fact Dr Warner says “it’s extremely common for someone with dementia to develop a sweet tooth”, so the carer would need to ensure they maintain a healthy balance with their food, focusing on their “nutritional intake and [making sure they are] getting enough vitamins.”
The individual may also have difficulty swallowing, and if they start choking this may deter them from eating. Dr Warner suggests that they will “need to get a speech and language swallowing assessment.” Being flexible around meal times is also recommended, and it is best to avoid times when the person is feeling tired or distressed. Dr Warner advises to make the food “available at the time the person wants to eat. People will forget that they have had a meal, but they will also forget they have not had a meal, so they need to be encouraged to eat.”
Dementia may be a complicated condition, but this doesn’t mean it cannot be managed. Ensuring the carer remains calm, compassionate and patient is the best way to approach someone living with dementia. While their personality and behaviours change over time, there are always methods which can maintain their quality of life.