Eating and Dementia

Ensuring a nutritious diet for elderly and people living with dementia is actually the least we can do. The importance of healthy eating for our older generation resonated when I accepted an invitation to attend a National Association of Care Catering meeting. My host, a community meals provider chatted his way through the two hour journey to York, expressing his company’s commitment to providing nutritious food, an extensive menu choice and meal delivery within a specific time frame. Finishing with their ‘safe and well’ procedure, the narrative was a wonderful insight into a service which tickled my taste buds and warmed my heart at the care behind these services.

Having spent much time discussing meal-time approaches with residential home managers, day centre providers, meal delivery services and frontline carers, the most talked about issue after good nutrition, was the difficulty in encouraging people to eat.

Dementia can affect a person’s relationship to food, impacting on their eating habits, meal- times and food choices. Finding their way to the dining room, managing cutlery and food recognition can become difficult for some people.

Enriching social care can play a big part in enhancing a person’s well-being. At Happy Days Dementia Workshop, we believe that ‘You can’t care for a person until you care about them ~ and to care about them, you must know who they are.’ Many residential care home managers are keen to show me their ‘One-Person-Plan’ which often doesn’t include meal-time favourites or absolute dislikes. Serving food to a person which they dislike eating may cause agitation or unrest. To contradict myself, some people with dementia change preferences away from their known favourites, may not recognise hunger or have a desire to eat. Nevertheless, it’s important we are aware of a person’s favourites so we can help them to enjoy mealtimes.

Meal-times are not only about the delivery of nutritious food, they’re about encouraging someone to want to eat and ensuring that they do. If a resident suddenly shows an aversion to eating, we know to check denture fit, medication, illness, signs of anxiety or depression – but it may just be that a person has forgotten about eating or not recognise the food on their plate. Prompting experiences and senses around eating and drinking may also help.

People with dementia still have feelings and may respond to visual images linked to the senses; a freshly cut loaf may signify the smell of newly baked bread and prompt taste buds, preparing the person to eat. Taste, textures and conversational prompts around the subject of food, eating and food favourites can also help to encourage eating. Happy Days nostalgic food corridors, creative dining room images, nostalgic environments and handy wipe-clean memory prompts have been designed to help interaction, encourage peoples’ appetites and eating habits for healthy living.

Encouraging abled people to engage in daily tasks as activities is another way to promote the idea of meal-times and eating:

Laying the tables                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Hand out cards with menu images to residents before mealtimes                                                                                                                                           Place daily menu images at the entrance to the dining area  – or on the tables                                                                                                                                         Develop Happy Days Nostalgic Food Brands, Market Day or Fresh Food corridor                                                                                                     Create a dresser or wall display with nostalgic reminders                                                                                                                                                   Use dining, food and drink images in dining areas
Reminder signs:  Rehydrate – Drink Water / Enjoy a nice cup of tea … / Five a Day Helps Work Rest & Play

I was pleased to hear about the ‘safe and well’ checks provided by community meal services. Eating alone can be a lonely experience. Linking up with volunteer visiting and befriending organisations may be the way forwards in ensuring these people eat well. Sometimes, just the company of another person is all that is needed to encourage eating and to help initiate conversations around food: ‘Tea Time – Stork Time’ by Happy Days is full of nostalgic food prompts and can be edited to generate thoughts around lunch, dinner and hydration if required. email with your topic choice.

By making a few creative refinements, we can help to make mealtimes as enjoyable and stress free as possible.

People may not always remember what you said but they will always remember how you made them feel.

Gillian Hesketh MA
Happy Days ~ Dementia Workshop
Memory Prompts – Nostalgic Rooms – Social Interaction Workshops for Carers
Phone 01253-899163

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