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 the company’s ‘safe and well’ procedure, the narrative was a wonderful insight into a service which tickled my taste buds and warmed my heart to know that encouraging eating and person centred care took joint place at the top of this company’s list.

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 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 the way to the dining room, managing cutlery, loss of appetite or food recognition can create difficulties 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 ‘One-Person-Plan’ template which often don’t include meal-time favourites or absolute food 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. That’s why we’ve created Happy Days Memory Joggers, colourful resources with response areas to record stories, interests and collate food favourites – handy for residents, carers and families to share information.

Meal-times are not only about the delivery of nutritious food, they are 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 around eating and drinking may also help. Happy Days nostalgic food corridors, creative dining rooms and cafe displays can include vintage style brand images: Birds Custard – Oxo – Marmite: Farmer’s Market range; fresh mouthwatering food images and Market Days; market towns from around the UK.

People with dementia still have feelings and may respond to visual images linked to the senses; a freshly cut loaf and the smell of newly baked bread might prompt taste buds, preparing the person to eat. The smell of bacon under the grill or cakes baking might do the same. Conversational prompts around the subject of food, eating and food favourites can also help to encourage eating. Baking Day Memory Boxes and food related memory prompts have been designed to help interaction, encourage peoples’ appetites and eating habits for healthy living.

Encouraging abled people to integrate with daily activities is another way to promote the idea of meal-times and eating:

Laying the tables                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Sharing out cards with menu images to residents before lunch                                                                                                                                                                    Placing daily menu images at the entrance to the dining area                                                                                                                                                                    Develop Happy Days nostalgic food corridor, dresser or wall display                                                                                                                                                               Use dining, food and drink images in dining areas
Reminder signs – Rehydrate ~ Drink Water

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’ is a nostalgic container, full of food and drink prompts to generate thoughts and conversations around lunch, dinner and hydration.

By making a few creative refinements, we might help to keep 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