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What is the Ideal Diet for People with Dementia?

For those suffering with dementia, a key element that can impact their overall health is their diet.

It’s important to ensure someone with dementia receives a nutrient-rich diet, and, depending on their ability to look after themselves, you may find yourself needing to manage their diet completely. As an experienced live-in care agency, we have worked with specialist dementia carers and provide dementia care at home to people around the UK. In this guide, we’ll take you through some of the best foods to buy for a person with dementia, and discuss the nutritional benefits of certain foods.

This guide will cover:

What is the best food for someone with dementia?

Tips for prepping meals

What should a person with dementia eat?

Recipe ideas

What are the common problems with diet and dementia?

What is the best food for someone with dementia?

When living with dementia, mealtimes can be harder for some people than others depending on the stage of dementia they are living with. Generally speaking, always aim to provide a varied and nutritious menu for your elderly relative. If possible, try to involve the person with dementia in the process of choosing their food, as someone’s preferences or tastes can change. You can offer choices to help the person make sensible, healthy decisions, such as asking them whether they would prefer chicken or salmon.

Tips for prepping meals

Below we’ve got some top tips to help you plan meals accordingly.

Planning ahead

If you’re heading to the supermarket,  it can be helpful to have a shopping list that has been prewritten with ingredients needed for meals that you have planned together. They can then help you tick off items as you go along and the process will seem smoother. Don’t forget other essential, non-food items, such as bin bags, laundry detergent, and washing-up liquid!

Some shops will have quieter times when it can be better to visit since there are fewer distractions during these times. Call your local shop to find out whether they have quieter hours and when these are so that you can plan accordingly.

Meal plans

You can easily repeat meals throughout the week and freeze meals that you have made too much. You may need to also factor in a live in dementia carer to your meal plans, so be sure to offer a variety of good quality food that everyone can enjoy.

Consider meal sizes

Sometimes people with dementia will lose their appetite and it can be challenging for them to eat three meals a day. You can help them reach their required daily calorie intake by reducing meal sizes and buying snacks for them to have in between meals, such as fresh fruit, muffins and cereal bars. Try to encourage fluid intake by buying squash or cordials that can be added to water.

Making mealtimes comfortable

Dementia and eating is an important topic to discuss because eating well can help prevent other physical problems that may come about from a poor diet, which will only make living with dementia a more challenging experience. How mealtimes are approached can also be important to consider as it can be challenging to get people living with dementia to eat and drink by themselves. An elderly live-in care agency will be knowledgeable in helping support dementia patients with their eating, in terms of both intakes and around creating a suitable atmosphere at mealtimes. For people with dementia, something as simple as a companion can help make them feel relaxed and at home.  People with dementia may experience becoming confused and overwhelmed. At mealtimes, it can be helpful to keep things simple and remove distractions. Keep cutlery minimal and provide foods that the person with dementia has helped to choose.

How to help your loved one at mealtimes

A quiet environment free of television, music, and multiple conversations can be beneficial for focus and you may find it helpful to provide verbal cues as to what the food items are and be alert to helping them with any food packaging. It is preferable to provide finger food like quartered sandwiches and sliced fruits and vegetables to limit the need for the use of cutlery that might be challenging for someone who is losing the ability to use cutlery due to dementia. Try to be patient at mealtimes, there will be times when people with dementia may forget that they have already eaten or they may refuse to eat and drink. You will need to leave enough time to support the person to eat and drink as it is important that they receive the correct amount of nutrients. They may have chewing or swallowing problems that can require more assistance. Inform healthcare professionals if these are new issues the person is struggling with.

What should a person with dementia eat?

Good nutrition is very important for the health and wellbeing of people with dementia. We know that what is good for our hearts is also good for our brains so having a healthy diet will encourage better brain health. We are not sure whether a healthy diet can slow down the progression of dementia once dementia has set in but we do know that healthy eating can contribute to better overall wellbeing.

Unless a medical professional has suggested otherwise, we should all aim to eat a balanced diet, meaning that we should eat fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, protein, and fats.

The NHS Eat Well Guide has a great guide to helping you understand more about what a typical balanced diet should include.

A guide to intake amounts for those with dementia

Salt

Salt is a necessary mineral for our body, however, too much salt can contribute to an increase in blood pressure which can lead to higher risks for stroke and vascular dementia. Salt is often hidden in processed foods so if you are monitoring salt intake then it is advisable to make things from scratch and add salt yourself. We should aim for no more than 6 grams of salt daily, which is approximately one level teaspoon.

Fats and oils

You may have heard lots of negativity regarding the consumption of fatty foods and their link to obesity and heart disease. This can be the case for saturated fat, a type of fat found in animal fat (meat, cheese, butter) and some processed foods (pastry, cakes, chocolate) which can elevate cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease. Since fatty foods are high in calories they can also contribute to weight gain. However, fats are an essential part of our diet since they help with the absorption of vitamins. Unsaturated fats can in fact also lower bad cholesterol levels, contributing to better heart health. Unsaturated fats can be found in foods such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, oily fish, avocados and some nuts, such as almonds, brazils, and peanuts. One type of unsaturated fat is polyunsaturated fat of which there are two main types; omega 3 and omega 6.

Omega 3

These are essential fats as the body is not able to produce them itself so you need to get them from your diet. They have important benefits for your metabolism, heart and brain. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna are good sources of omega 3.

Omega 6

These are fats that are also not produced by the body so need to be sourced from food. Omega 6 is an important source of energy, however, Western diets have been shown to have too much omega 6 as it is found in corn oil and vegetable oil. Too much omega 6 can lead to problems with your health. It can be confusing to try to get an optimal balance of both omega 3 and omega 6. You should aim for two portions of oily fish per week and reduce your intake of foods that use sunflower oil or corn oil. If your loved one doesn’t enjoy fish, then consider introducing an omega 3 supplement, like fish oil.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells. Vitamins C and E, commonly found in fruit and vegetables, are examples of antioxidants. Vitamin E (found in nuts, seeds and green, leafy vegetables) has heavily been researched in relation to reducing the risk of dementia as have many other sources of antioxidants, such as green tea, red wine and cocoa. Research is not conclusive but it is generally considered that a diet high in antioxidants can be beneficial for many bodily processes so it is a good idea to try to include foods high in antioxidants in our diets. You can easily integrate antioxidants into somebody’s diet through the following techniques:

  • Include fruit or vegetables in each meal or snack
  • Have a cup of green or matcha tea every day
  • Ensure that they are eating a wide variety of colours, rather than just brown or beige foods. For instance, kale (green), beetroot (purple), berries (red), carrots (orange)
  • Use spices and herbs in meals
  • Snack on nuts, seeds and dried fruit

Vitamins B6, B9 (Folic Acid) and B12

B vitamins are essential for cell metabolism and some studies have suggested that they may protect against cognitive decline. Deficiencies in these vitamins can cause an amino acid called homocysteine to rise which has been linked to heart disease, dementia and stroke.

The advice is to ensure that foods rich in B6, B12, and folate are present in the diet. Foods to look for include salmon, leady greens, liver, eggs, milk, beef and legumes. Marmite is a good source of B vitamins so if someone likes marmite then this can easily be added to toast in the mornings.

Recipe ideas

Dementia care includes being able to support someone with eating a healthy, balanced diet. Here are some nutritious recipes that you might like to consider cooking, preparing and eating with someone with dementia:

Pear and Blueberry breakfast bowl (serves 1)

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe pear
  • 2 tbsp oats
  • 150g pot Greek or live yogurt
  • 3 tbsp milk, plus a bit extra
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 2 handfuls blueberries
  • Drizzle of honey

Method

Grate the pear into a bowl and add the oats, half the yogurt, the milk and most of the seeds. Mix them together. Leave for 5-10 mins, then check the consistency and dilute with a little more milk or water if it is too thick. Spoon on the remaining yogurt, pile on the berries and remaining seeds, drizzle with honey and then serve.

Salmon and lentils (serves 2)

Ingredients

410g can green lentils, drained and rinsed

2 salmon fillets, about 175g/6oz each

1 clove of garlic, crushed

3 tbsp olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

2 large handfuls baby spinach

Salt and pepper

Method

Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and wrap and seal the salmon in tin foil with crushed garlic, some lemon juice, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Cook for about 15-20 minutes, until the salmon has cooked all the way through.

Whilst the salmon is in the oven, make the dressing by mixing together the olive oil and lemon juice and seasoning with salt and pepper.

Place the lentils in a sieve and pour boiling water over them to remove the liquid. Place the lentils in a pan with a lid and heat them on a low heat with about ¼ can of boiling water. Add the spinach and about 1/3 of the dressing. Cook until the lentils are warm and the spinach has wilted.

When the salmon is cooked, place a fillet onto a plate with some lentils and drizzle over the remaining dressing.

Asparagus Soup (serves 4)

Ingredients

25g butter

350g asparagus spears finely chopped with the end of the stalks cut off

3 shallots, finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 large handfuls spinach

700ml vegetable stock (fresh or stock cube)

Fresh bread, to serve (optional)

Method

Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the shallots, asparagus and garlic, and cook for 5-10 mins until softened.  Stir through the spinach, pour over the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Blitz with a hand blender. Season generously and add hot water to loosen if needed. Ladle into bowls and serve with fresh bread, if you like.

What are the common problems with diet and dementia?

Weight loss can be a serious issue for people with dementia but excessive weight gain can also occur due to reduced activity and an increase in eating convenience foods, such as crisps and biscuits. It is important that someone with dementia is not only getting the correct amount of calories but that they are also consuming healthy foods. The ideal diet for a person with dementia is dependent on whether they are aiming to lose, maintain or gain weight. If weight loss has become noticeable then it is important to try to increase weight by encouraging three meals a day, plus three snacks. A diet plan can help guide calorie intake and this can be developed by healthcare professionals, if you are unsure. One way to add healthy weight without having to consume large amounts of food can be to increase the amount of fat in a diet. Fat has a high number of calories per volume and daily calorie targets can be met more easily by adding one tablespoon of butter, mayonnaise or olive oil or including avocados, nuts and salad dressings to someone’s diet. Offering higher calorie beverages such as full fat milk, fruit juices and milkshakes instead of tea and coffee can also help with weight gain.

Managing weight loss effectively

It is important that weight gain is done through a balanced diet and not by consumption of unhealthy, processed foods. Remember to include protein at every meal and snack, as this is important in maintaining strength through ageing. Protein is commonly found in poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy. Fruits and vegetables, although generally not high in calories, are still important to include in a diet, as are wholegrains such as brown rice and brown bread.

Making sure your loved one eats properly

Dementia patients not eating due to not having an appetite or losing some of their senses can make gaining weight challenging. Ensure that you are making food and drinks visible throughout the day. To increase fluid intake, leave drinks in a place where the person can both reach and see them and offer the person prompts to drink. You can even guide the drink to their mouth to help start off the process and describing the type of drink you have poured (for example, ‘This looks like a lovely cold drink for a hot day’) can be a helpful technique. Keep snacks available and on hand to offer throughout the day if someone is struggling to manage three full meals.

Tips to help those who struggle with eating

If a person has difficulty chewing foods due to poor dental health, it is better to try softer textured food, such as mashed potato, pureed fruits or smoothies. Remember to report these difficulties to a healthcare professional as this diet may not be sustainable. Similarly, for any swallowing difficulties, report this to a medical professional. People who have difficulty swallowing are at a higher risk of malnutrition than those without. Support from a dietitian can be offered and a referral can be made through a person’s GP.

How we can help

We are an experienced live in care agency that will work with you to find the right live-in carer for your loved one. With specialist dementia live-in care, you can rest assured your elderly parent, relative or friend is receiving the best care available. With tailored care plans and continuous communication, your loved one will be looked after in an environment they are familiar and comfortable with. Contact our team for more information today or explore our website to learn more about us.

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