Making mealtimes manageable for older people living with dementia
Nutrition plays a key part in keeping all of us healthy. But for older people living with dementia, the challenges of maintaining a healthy diet and regular mealtime routine can become overwhelming.
Many older people coping with the varying symptoms of dementia struggle to get the essential nutrition they need, particularly in the later stages of the disease. Sadly this can compromise their physical health and ultimately hasten their decline.
Fortunately there are plenty of ways that dementia carers can ensure people continue to get the nutrition they need. Here are some ideas to try...
Use coloured plates and bowls that contrast with the table.
Difficulties with perception are one of the lesser known, but very common, symptoms of dementia which can make it difficult to detect the difference between the table and the plate and food. This inevitably makes eating challenging. Consider therefore using a white tablecloth and brightly coloured plates and bowls to make the contrast easier to distinguish. Studies have even suggested brightly coloured crockery may stimulate the appetite, encouraging people to eat more.
Look for specially adapted crockery that makes use of suction cups to prevent plates slipping and moving around the table, and specially shaped cutlery which has been designed to be easier to hold.
These are particularly helpful if the person’s motor skills are not as good as they used to be. Anything that makes eating easier, and therefore enables people to maintain their independence, is surely going to encourage them to eat more.
Try using divided plates.
Food can sometimes appear more appealing if it is organised in separate spaces rather than all being squashed together in the middle of the plate. Some older people respond better to food served in this way so it’s worth giving it a try.
Avoid strong room scents which can put people off their food. The smell of food is one of the things that makes it appealing so don’t inadvertently mask it with the smell of air fresheners or scented candles.
Break meals up into several small courses.
A large meal can easily be overpowering, so try bringing a small amount of one or two foods at a time. Allow the person to eat those and then bring them more if they are still hungry. In the later stages of the illness it may even be better to dispense with set mealtimes altogether and encourage the person to eat whenever they will, even if this means small snacks at regular intervals throughout the day and night.
Incorporate more finger foods.
Dispensing with the need for knives and forks may help someone with dementia to eat independently. This is safer and more dignified that being fed, and may well stimulate people to eat more.
Most important, don’t be frightened to seek extra support if things become too much to manage. Home care services and residential care homes that specialise in dementia care are experts in this field, and can provide invaluable support to families in ensuring loved ones get the nutrition they need.
Gresham Lodge in Scunthorpe is a specialist dementia care home with a strong, caring, community atmosphere. Give us a ring on 01724 410042 to have a chat and find out more about our dementia specialist facilities.