Proper nutrition is crucial for elderly patients living with dementia. They may be overwhelmed by different food choices during mealtimes, or they may struggle to use their utensils. A recent research reveals that malnutrition is associated with faster functional loss in dementia patients. Functional decline coupled with unwanted weight loss may also make the elderlies more vulnerable to developing other serious health issues.
Read our guide to find out how to maintain good nutrition for patients with dementia. We’ll walk you through some reasons for their poor appetite and how they can be encouraged to eat more healthy food.
1. How Dementia Affects Appetite
Symptoms in dementia that are related to loss of cognitive functions can include impaired memory, thinking, decision making, and reasoning. While cognitive functions may become slower or impaired over time, dementia affects this to the extent that daily life and routines are severely impaired.
This deterioration can cause changes in food cravings, leading to diet preferences that may be a radical shift from old likes and dislikes. It can also affect appetite, disrupt regular eating patterns, and cause sudden weight loss or gain.
Different factors can affect the appetite of patients with dementia, disrupting their regular eating patterns and leading to poor nutrition. Here are some of the most common causes and what you can do to minimise their effects.
Some dementia medications or dosage changes can decrease appetite. Consult your loved one’s doctor to find out if their treatment may affect their eating. If they are taking any new medications, note any changes in appetite and inform their physician immediately.
Lack of Exercise
Encourage your loved one to engage in light exercises, such as walking in the park or washing dishes. Regular exercise will help them maintain a healthy appetite.
Inability to Recognise Favourite Food
Because dementia affects memory, your loved one may have difficulty recognising once-familiar dishes.
Dulled Sense of Taste and Smell
Dementia can blunt a person’s sense of taste and smell, causing sufferers to prefer strongly-flavoured food. They may find their old diet bland, so do keep this in mind when they start rejecting former favourites.
Those with dementia may still have some appetite but are discouraged to eat because their dentures make it uncomfortable to chew and swallow. Check with their dentist to make sure that their dentures fit so they can eat comfortably.
2. Nutrition Tips for Dementia Patients
Because dementia affects mobility and the senses, it is advisable to try and make every meal a healthy one. This minimises the negative impact of skipped meals or overeating and can help a person with dementia stay fit.
Here are some quick and easy tips for creating a nutritious meal plan.
Cut Down Refined Sugar Intake
Refined sugar has lots of calories but no essential vitamins and minerals. Excessive sugar intake such as high consumption of added sugar beverages, added sugar desserts or overly sweet fruits has been linked to declines in memory, cognitive and other brain functions. If your loved one’s dementia is giving them a sweet tooth, satisfy their sugar cravings with naturally sweet food such as fruit lightly sweetened smoothies.
Reduce Sodium Consumption
Sodium can elevate blood pressure to dangerously high levels. High sodium diet has been identified as risk factor of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, both of which are linked to dementia. Reduce the salt intake for your loved one and flavour their food with fresh herbs and spices instead. It is also crucial to pay attention to hidden sources of sodium in pre-made meals and processed food and control intake of foods such as canned meat and fish, bacon, sausage, spam, salted nuts, frozen meal, etc.
Provide a Balanced, Varied Diet
Ensure that their daily meals always have a healthy mix of lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy items, fruits, and vegetables. Check out top food ideas to increase appetite and promote good nutrition in elderly adults from our blog article here.
3. Suggestions for Easier Mealtimes
Simplifying the act of eating and making it a more social activity can help a person with dementia stay engaged and well-nourished. Here are some tips which can make it easier for them to eat healthily and enjoy their mealtimes. Do note that while it is important you allow them to feed themselves, you should also be prepared to step in and help when necessary.
Avoid Distractions During Meals
To keep your loved one from getting overwhelmed or confused during meals, eat in a calm and quiet environment together. While talking to each other is encouraged, turn off the television and radio to minimise distraction.
Enjoy Meals Together
Make eating a more social activity that will help keep your loved one engaged, so they will continue to look forward to mealtimes.
Have Small, Healthy Snacks Available
People with dementia may have trouble recalling that they had just eaten a meal, prompting them to ask when breakfast or dinner will be served. Instead of telling them that they just ate, offer them small healthy snacks. Raisins, dried fruit, and yoghurt are all healthy food that can satiate their cravings in a nutritious way.
Give Plenty of Time to Finish Meals
Because of impaired coordination, dementia sufferers may take much longer to cut food, chew, and swallow. Be patient with your loved ones and expect mealtimes to be longer. Let them take their time to eat. This will help preserve a sense of normalcy and independence in a dementia patient.
Provide Finger Foods
The easier it is for your loved one to eat, the more they can enjoy their mealtime and get all their nutrients. Give them bite-sized items such as steamed broccoli, orange segments, and chicken nuggets, which they can easily pick up and consume even without utensils.
4. Ninkatec’s Services for Dementia Care
Ninkatec provides different cost-effective care plans for elderly clients. After an assessment by our professional consultants, we can better advise you on the best plan for addressing your loved one’s medical conditions and needs.
These are the care solutions that we provide for our clients:
- Virtual Care – A monitoring solution best suited for active patients. We provide regular virtual supervision and consultations with our online clinicians.
- Right at Home – A care coordination plan which offers living assistance, caregiving, regular doctor visits, and physiotherapy in the comfort of your home
- Close Connect – Acute care solutions for critical injuries, post-surgery recovery, and post-discharge transitional care, with 24/7 monitoring and daily clinical reviews
We also work with entrusted agencies for caregiving services, who can help look after your loved ones at home and make daily activities easier.
5. Support and Care at Home with Ninkatec
As dementia progresses, it can affect memory, taste, and muscle coordination – reducing appetite and making it challenging for your elderly with dementia to eat, and for you to ensure proper nutrition for them. It requires plenty of supervision, patience, and attention to details that many of us may not be able to fully provide on our own.
Let Ninkatec care for your loved ones with dementia and help them keep up a healthy appetite. With our expertise, you can rest easy knowing they are in skilled, empathetic hands.