For a person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, poor nutrition may increase behavioural symptoms and cause weight loss. However, Dementia and nutrition are rarely topics that are considered to be closely linked. As a caregiver, it is important to make sure you provide residents with the correct nutrients to boost their health and wellbeing.
In order to make sure residents are getting the vitamins and nutrients they need, make sure you provide a balanced diet with a variety of foods. People with Alzheimer’s or Dementia do not need a special or unique diet, however, are likely to suffer from a decreased appetite or forget which foods they have eaten. You should, therefore, encourage residents to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet daily.
Daily meal plans should offer vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods. If you are taking care of residents with Dementia, here are some tips on creating a healthy diet plan:
- Include least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables in meals for residents every day.
Many fruit and vegetables contain nutrients that can help to improve brain function. Broccoli, in particular, has been proven to contain two nutrients that can help to improve cognitive activity. Vitamin K helps to strengthen cognitive abilities and Choline has been found to improve memory. Broccoli also includes a sizeable serving of folic acid, which can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, a 2011 study by researchers at Dundee University found that a chemical found in broccoli called ‘sulforaphane’ could also help to keep the brain sharp in later life.
- Base meals on carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy foods.
Carbohydrates are the best foods for achieving maximum mind span according to a new book from leading ageing expert Preston Estep, called The Mindspan Diet. Evidence of the theory also stems from studies on the South American tribe, which found the individuals to follow a carbohydrate-based diet. This diet consisted of rice, plantain, corn, nuts and fruit. Members of the South American tribe were found to remain in good shape and spend all day hunting, fishing, farming and gathering even in their old age.
- Ensure residents drink 6-8 cups/glasses of fluid a day.
Staying hydrated may be a problem for Dementia residents if they have trouble recognising when they are hungry and thirsty. Encourage fluids by offering small cups of water or other liquids throughout the day or foods with high water content, such as fruit, soups, milkshakes and smoothies.
- Encourage residents to eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins.
Include 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily.
- Limit foods with high saturated fat and cholesterol.
Some fat is essential for health, however, not all fats are equal. You should be careful with including fats that are bad for heart health, such as butter, solid shortening, lard and fatty cuts of meats.
- Cut down on refined sugars.
Often found in processed foods, refined sugars contain calories but lack vitamins, minerals and fibre. You can tame a sweet tooth with healthier options like fruit or juice-sweetened baked goods. However, it is important to note that in the later-stages of Alzheimer’s, if loss of appetite is a problem, adding a small amount of sugar to foods may encourage eating.
- Limit foods with high sodium and use less salt.
Eating too many foods that contain a lot of sodium can dramatically affect blood pressure. Cut down by using spices or herbs to season food as an alternative.
Making Mealtimes Easy and Convenient
Although it is important to pay attention to the type of food you prepare for your residents, it is also vital to consider other factors to make mealtimes easy and enjoyable.
In order to ensure residents are more likely to eat their meals, it is firstly a good idea to serve food when there are no distractions and no excessive noise in the room. Individuals with Dementia are often very sensitive to noise, therefore an environment which is too noisy can easily prevent them from feeling comfortable and relaxed enough to enjoy their food. It is, therefore, a good idea to serve meals away from the TV and radio. Avoid placing items on the table — such as table arrangements or plastic fruit — that might distract or confuse the person. Use only the utensils needed for the meal.
It is also important to allow residents enough time to finish their food. You should always remind residents that they are not being rushed and encourage them to chew and swallow carefully. It may also be useful to use mealtimes as a chance for residents to socialise, which can encourage residents to take their time and will also encourage regular socialisation.