Sophie Murray, the head of nutrition and hydration at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare in the United Kingdom, provides her top tips on producing a dietary plan for those living with dementia. Find them in the list below.
1. Find memory-evoking foods.
Certain foods can evoke memories of smells and tastes from the past. Positive memories can trigger appetite and routine. Some examples might include: oranges and cinnamon at Christmas, roast chicken on a Sunday, or baked bread at lunchtime. Incorporating coffee at breakfast, home-baked bread at lunch, and a homemade stew for dinner are all ways to ensure each mealtime has a stimulating smell. It is also a discussion point, which then supports engagement and enjoyment.
2. Get on board with the smoothie trend.
Nutritionally balanced smoothies, made from fresh ingredients, are a great start to the day! They can have a positive impact on energy levels when used to aid weight gain. Since they are made with whole foods, ingredients can be selected from key nutrient groups to help create a whole and balanced drink.
Carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables, protein from skimmed milk powder, fats from nuts or oils, and a multitude of color from carefully selected fruit and vegetables are easy to combine together. Minerals such as calcium and magnesium support energy metabolism and vitamins such as B2, B6, and B12 help release energy from foods. One of my favorites is Caribbean smoothie made from coconut milk, pineapple, kale, ground nuts and lime, and another includes beetroot, apple, mint, spinach, yogurt, and blueberries.
3. Consider the dining experience, too.
It’s not just about the food. Having smaller, intimate dining settings can also benefit those with dementia. Calm environments with carefully considered music and visual stimulation can really help. A beautifully laid table with familiar items such as gravy boats, salt and pepper shakers, tablecloths, and placemats may all help create prompts to enjoy, relax, and eat.
4. Know that mealtimes are important.
Eating meals at the same time each day is a good way to get people socializing with each other. This also provides a great opportunity to support people into routine and punctuate the day, thus reducing chances of weight loss and symptoms of malnutrition.
Three meals a day should be adequate to provide sufficient balance, although small appetites may require an individual to have snacks in between meals to sustain health and energy. The Eatwell Guide might help with getting more balance into each meal as well.
5. Be aware of the texture of food.
A late-stage symptom of dementia called dysphagia makes it difficult for some individuals to swallow. Sometimes purees or softer foods will be necessary — a specialist health professional can assess this situation. As those with dysphagia are at much greater risk of weight loss and dehydration, it is important to get the right advice to ensure a balanced diet is consumed.
6. Keep it healthy.
This may seem like an obvious point, but studies have indicated that a balanced diet containing B vitamins 6, 9, and 12 can in fact reduce progression in early stage Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. Ensuring every meal is nutritious is important to keep the hunger at bay, as this can be exacerbated in those with dementia.
More studies are coming out, indicating benefits of the above nutrients — as well as selenium — for those living with dementia. So there are reasons for believing that diet may help to manage dementia. On a more fundamental level, a balanced diet — trying to ensure every meal is nutritious — can support management of energy levels. This can be vital in helping to reduce behaviors associated with hunger, which are often exaggerated in people living with dementia.
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