Nutrition and Dementia – How can I help optimise my nutrition?

For people living with dementia, sometimes, a basic task such as eating can become increasingly difficult for a myriad of reasons including physical, emotional and behavioural changes that occur with the progression of the disease. Below are some issues that yourself or your loved ones may encounter and some tips to assist in optimising Nutrition:

I forget to eat and drink – are there any strategies to help me?

  • An alarm, phone call, visit from friends and family or even sticky notes throughout the house may be utilised as reminders to eat a snack, or a main-meal. If you find this is a problem for you, or your loved ones, try to organise your personalised reminders for the week in advance!
  • Leaving pre-packaged snacks where visible, such as on the coffee table while watching TV, the dining table when reading the morning paper or in your purse when heading out the door can act as a reminder to eat, as well as providing a easy accessible snack that doesn’t require any preparation!
  • Enjoying meals with family, friends or carers will not only model as a reminder to eat but also provide social contact and company during meal-times.
  • Receiving home-delivered meals or frozen pre-packaged meals from the supermarket or loved ones may be an easier option for those living with dementia.
  • Sometimes, people living with dementia may have forgotten they have already eaten a meal – if this is a common occurrence for you or your loved one, perhaps encourage or prepare various options for a meal-period. EG: breakfast: yoghurt, cereal, fruit and a juice.

My appetite is very low – what can I do to try and eat more so I feel better?

  • Try eating small and frequent meals throughout the day if 3 big main-meals is not working for you or your loved one – this can include boiled eggs, tuna or cheese on crackers, muesli bars, and smaller main meal foods that are of preference.
  • Utilise nourishing drinks between meals if eating regularly is becoming a problem, full cream milks made into milkshakes with ice-cream or dietitian prescribed oral supplement may be a beneficial option to prevent weight loss and malnutrition.
  • Aim to increase your calorie dense food items such as full fat diary products, dips or cheese and biscuits, baked beans on toast, sweets and hot chips.
  • Aim to prioritise the protein portion of a meal over veggies: ie: meat, tofu, egg or legumes over steamed beans or spinach to keep your muscles strong!

What else can I do to help meal-times run more smoothly?

  • If the use of cutlery is becoming difficult, try using fingers foods such as, cheese sticks, chicken nuggets, fish fingers or mini-quiches which are easy to pick-up and enjoy, and also easy to prepare for yourself or serve up to a loved one.
  • Minimize distractions at meal-times if possible. IE: many people talking over each other, loud noises or movements in the background, like TV.
  • Keep crockery, table cloths, and napkins plain to provide contrast between eating equipment and food so it is easily identified. If recognition of food is a problem, modelling eating the same food in front of a person living with dementia may be helpful.
  • Aim to prepare foods in familiar ways or cooking techniques with familiar flavours if you are cooking for your loved ones.
  • Offer meals at the same time each day if possible to create routine.
  • If you are caring for someone living with dementia aim to stay calm and relaxed at meal times to aid in keeping your loved one relaxed. Allow ample time for meal-times if any behavioural issues do arise, but most importantly, you can only try your best – it can be a very challenging time.

    Looking for a Meal Plan? check out the following: 
    Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan Program (7days)
    Plant Based Brain Support Meal Plan Program (7days)
    Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Plan Program (6days) 

    Written by Rosie Candusso
    Student Dietitian