Living Well with Dementia – Food, glorious food!
Written by: Sue Goldsmith, RMN
Food is a big part of life for a lot of people and means more than just fuel in order to function on a day-to-day basis.
Food can give us an opportunity to relax, to socialise and to try new things. It can also form a part of our identity when we become known for our appetite, or our love of baking or have a ‘signature dish’ that we enjoy cooking for others.
So, what happens when our views, abilities and preferences change? How does this affect not only our participation and enjoyment, but also our sense of identity?
For people living with dementia, relationships with food can be affected as changes in the brain can affect the following:
- A person’s desire to eat;
- Their ability to concentrate;
- The ability to recognise or use everyday items, such as cutlery;
- The ability to perform everyday tasks;
- The confidence to eat with others.
This can have an impact, not only on a person’s physical health but also their mental well-being.
So, what can you do if you’re caring for a loved one who is living with dementia?
Prepare appetising dishes. Tastes can change as we get older, and people may require stronger flavours if they are going to be encouraged to eat. Think about how food can be enhanced with herbs and spices or how they can be made sweeter with honey and sweeteners, rather than with sugar. Of course, some people might need the additional calories if they have been losing weight, so think about how this can be added to foods by adding cheese, cream and butter to dishes – especially if people have a poor appetite and don’t want to eat a bigger volume of food.
Remember that our appetite can be encouraged through our other senses too, so smelling delicious food aromas can help to work up an appetite; similarly, if food looks attractive on our plate, we are more likely to want to eat it. It’s important that portion sizes are also appealing – too big and a person might feel overwhelmed; too small and they may be disappointed!
Prepare the table or immediate area for dining. This can help the person living with dementia to understand that a meal is about to be served. This can mean that they are more likely to stay seated long enough for the meal to be placed in front of them. Be mindful not to invite them to the table too long before the meal as this may have the opposite effect and they may then struggle to concentrate when their meal is placed before them.
If someone gets up half way through the meal, don’t get stressed about it! Your stress will be picked up and the person may then feel anxious. Continue with your meal as it is important for you to keep up your strength and after a short period, invite the person to return to the table and join you.
Be prepared to think outside of the box! You might find that your loved one just isn’t able to sit for long enough to eat a whole meal, so think about food that can be easily picked up and eaten while they are going about their day. Leaving snacks around the house that can be picked up can be a way of making sure that they are getting enough to eat to support their physical and mental health. Sandwiches, fruit, crisps, cakes and salad items are all things that can easily be eaten when doing other things.
Involve the person in preparing food and drinks. Not only does this help them to use their cognitive and physical skills, it can also help the person to feel good about what they are still able to contribute. It might be that they can no longer make a cup of tea on their own from start to finish, but there may be some part of that process that they can help with. Stirring the drink, or getting the cups out are simple tasks that can be done with little chance of failing.
Consider equipment that might help. Brightly coloured plates can help to create a contrast between the food and the plate. Research has shown that people are more likely to be drawn to the food on the coloured plate and therefore it might help with visibility and appetite. The colour red has been associated with encouraging appetite (think about the signs used by McDonalds, KFC and Burger King!) and therefore brightly coloured red plates might make all the difference! Angled cutlery or lipped plates can also help people to maintain their ability to eat independently without struggling to a point where they just give up.
Think about dining as a social experience. Put some music on, take the time to chat and reminisce and focus on each other, as well as the food. A person living with dementia may not always remember the things you’ve done or said, but they will always remember the way you make them feel.
Take every opportunity to live in the moment, relax and enjoy.
Dementia Care at Bluebird Care Lewes District, Brighton & Hove
Bluebird Care Lewes District, Brighton & Hove can provide experienced staff to help you maintain your quality of life while remaining in your own home. We create a specialised dementia care plan with you. This might include:
- Reminding or helping you to take your medicines to manage your symptoms
- Support with bathing and/or dressing to keep you looking your best
- Catheter care and continence management to maintain your dignity and comfort
- Help to establish a regular exercise routine to improve mood and mobility and to strengthen muscles
- Making sure you have plenty of fluids and a balanced diet with enough fresh fruit and vegetables and fibre to keep you healthy and avoid constipation
- Assisting with routine household chores and shopping so your home life is as you would like it to be
- Companionship, or helping you to be involved in social activities.
Our dementia home care and live-in care services provide the support and care you need to get you and your loved ones through the difficult days.
Get in touch with our friendly team to discuss your care requirements; call us on 01273 022055.
How to find the right care for you or your relative
1. Find your local office
Bluebird Care delivers care from locally based offices, find yours to start your care journey today.
2. Get in touch with us
Fill in our call back form or give us a call to find out how we can help you.
We’ll come out to you to find out what you or your loved one needs to help stay independent at home.
4. Care team chosen & care starts
You'll be cared for by our specially trained team to support you to remain at home for as long as possible.