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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. The below guide from The Live In Care Company takes you through some of the key questions about the ideal diet for someone with dementia. With experienced elderly live-in care for dementia available and experienced live-in carers for elderly sufferers on hand to help, we can ensure your loved one is receiving the right care they need.

Read on for more information about how you can help your friend, loved one, or relative with what they eat.

 

This guide will cover:

 

What food should I buy when shopping for someone with dementia?

How to create an atmosphere for eating?

What should a person with dementia eat?

What are some nutritious recipes?

What are the common problems with diet and dementia?

What food should I buy when shopping for someone with dementia?

The foods you should focus on buying should be nutritious and enjoyable for the person with dementia. Sometimes you may buy food that the person does not want to eat and this can be more likely if they are not involved in choosing their own meals. 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.

 

Grocery shopping via the internet can be a useful option to involve them in the process of choosing their own foods/meals as this can be done within the security of the home, with the person present. Online supermarket websites often have photos that accompany the food items, which can help the person with dementia better recognise the foods and therefore be involved with the process of choosing items. You can also log favourite items on your account which can help save time for future online shops.

 

If the person with dementia accompanies you to the supermarket, then 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 a 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.

 

The foods that you should be guiding the person with dementia to buy should be part of a nutritious and varied diet. Focus on the meals you or someone else is going to help them prepare and cook for the week and then buy the ingredients you need for those meals. Try to cook from scratch where possible, as this is the best way to ensure nutritional food is being eaten.

 

You can repeat meals throughout the week and freeze meals that you have made too much of for later consumption. Just ensure that you have bought enough of a food item to cover the other meals. For instance, if you plan to have salmon twice that week, make sure that you buy at least two salmon steaks. If carers are also going to eat with the person with dementia, then ensure there is enough food for the carer too.

 

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.

 

How to create an atmosphere for eating

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 since 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. Read our guide on how elderly live-in care can combat loneliness.

 

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.

 

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.

 

There are a few points below on other aspects of our diet that you can consider when cooking and preparing food for someone 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 to reduce your intake of foods that use sunflower oil or corn oil. If you are not eating oily fish then consider taking 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.

 

Tips for how to try to include more antioxidants in someone’s diet:

 

  • 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.

 

What are some nutritious recipes?

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

If someone is aiming to lose weight then try to reduce calorie intake by replacing higher-calorie foods with lower calorie foods such as replacing apple pie and custard with fresh fruit and yoghurt. You can help by also serving food in portions rather than bringing out the packet and by storing food away from the person’s line of sight so they are less tempted.

 

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

The Live in Care Company will make the process of finding and choosing a live-in carer hassle-free and straightforward – and that means carers who are enjoy cooking meals that are both appealing and nutritious for their clients.

Our expert team will be happy to speak to you and will take the time to understand your situation and your needs and will match you with a carer that will cook meals that are both tasty and healthy.

 

You may speak to us by calling 0118 449 237, making an enquiry or emailing the team at [email protected] 

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