People with Dementia, especially the elderly, can have problems with eating. For various reasons, it may happen that they no longer want to or cannot eat. It is important to keep eating as healthily as for long as possible and this also applies to people with Dementia.
If I found myself in a situation where I was sitting with a plate of food in front of me, feeling that all too familiar gnawing hunger, but I was unable to decipher the complexity of how to satiate my hunger, by maneuvering the contents of the plate in front of me into my mouth down to my stomach … I might just snarl at those near me, I could get up and walk away, I could even show other behavior that shows my frustration!
Not eating, not hungry
In my experience, many people living with Dementia who don’t eat or reject food and drinks offered to them, are inclined to eat with just the right assistance. Of course, there are times when your efforts are futile, or when Dementia has progressed to such an extent that eating becomes physically impossible, but I believe we must never assume that ‘not eating’ necessarily means ‘not hungry’.
There is so much to understand about eating with Dementia. The Dementia Mealtime Tool is a system designed to improve the mealtime experience for people living with Dementia
For people living with Dementia, staying well-nourished and hydrated can involve all sorts of challenges. One of the reasons may be the gradual loss of connections in the brain that link hunger and thirst to eating and drinking. There may be a reduced ability to recognize food and drinks.
This can also apply to the use of cutlery and the many items in a kitchen or at a dining table. By making alterations to taste and smell it’s possible to clearly identify food preferences and desires, making it easier to stimulate the brain to recognize food and drinks and act on the feelings of thirst and hunger.
Some people may just need the suggestion to pick up a spoon, or benefit from a gentle ‘hand over hand’ guiding of a spoon from the food to the mouth; the repetitive action of filling spoons/forks/chopsticks and moving food to the mouth is so embedded in our brains, that just starting the action can empty a bowl or plate!
And, if cutlery is a problem, go for food that can be easily picked up by the fingers. Serve soft pieces of vegetables, potato, and meat. Eating with our hands is strongly related to our earliest experience with food and can often make a huge difference in what ends up being eaten.
People living with Dementia are easily distracted and can get confused if you try to get them to multitask. We want to make the job of eating their food to be as simple as possible and for them. We want them to feel comfortable and relaxed while doing so. Stop talking to the person while they are eating, small comments about the food are beneficial but not too much. Make sure that they can focus on the task at hand, one thing at a time.
In next week’s blog Eating problems with Dementia: the teeth we will talk about the high rate of tooth decay and gum disease, and give tips to encourage people with Dementia to eat.
When you need more information or tips don’t hesitate to contact us!