Good nutritional intake is so important to maintaining health and wellbeing for individuals with dementia, especially as under-nutrition can exacerbate their condition. However, a loss of taste and smell and a general apathy for food, often goes hand in hand with dementia. Therefore, it can be very difficult for carers in a care home to encourage people to eat at all.
With this in mind, I’ve put together my top tips on how to help people with dementia get the nutrition they need to remain as healthy as they can.
Snack Times should be Embraced
Limiting occasions for eating to set mealtimes isn’t appropriate for dementia sufferers, who often need to eat more regularly. Offering snacks in between meals will help to maintain a steady intake of energy and allow for variations in appetite throughout the day. Low blood sugar levels can intensify the condition as it can often mean that less glucose reaches the brain, so you ideally want to maintain a stable blood sugar level in service users with dementia.
Make the Most of Pudding!
Dessert is often the most popular course for people with dementia, so it’s a good opportunity to help them take in vitamins and minerals that could be missing from their diet. Offer serving options that are fortified with additional nutrients. For example, a sticky toffee pudding that is made with wholemeal flour and dates and served with custard, will not only provide vital nutrients, but also fibre to keep bowels healthy, iron for immune and cognitive function and an array of micronutrients to protect against further neurodegeneration.
Use Smoother Options
Soups, milkshakes and smoothies can prove more appealing when you have a smaller appetite and they can also be fortified easily. For instance, if you blend a banana with yoghurt, whole milk, ground almonds and a small scoop of ice cream it will provide around 400 calories, as well as essential fatty acids, fibre, folate and calcium. Quinoa is a supernutritional seed that looks and tastes like a soft rice grain. It has a perfect protein profile and is easily metabolised, which makes it an ideal addition to soups.
Try Visual Aids
Giving individuals with dementia a picture menu rather than a written description will go a long way in improving their nutrition. Showing them appetising pictures of dishes that are presented nicely is a useful way to encourage them to eat.
Consider Using Coconut Oil
The latest theorists as to what causes dementia has described Alzheimer’s (the most common form of the condition) as ‘diabetes of the brain’. Researchers are currently investigating the influence of a type of fat called medium chain triglycerides. This can act as fuel for brain cells in the absence of glucose. Coconut oil is a rich source of this specific kind of fat and also makes an excellent alternative to cooking oil as it remains stable at high temperatures. Its great flavour makes it a great replacement to butter or margarine when you’re making cakes or biscuits.