Dementia – eating and drinking

Many of us know how hard it can be, trying to persuade someone living with dementia to eat and drink sufficiently. It’s been quite a few months now since Mum came out of hospital after a serious UTI, but during those months, I’ve experimented with a wide variety of foods, from ready-meals to full blown home-cooked dishes.

The results have been quite conclusive, and ready-meals hardly feature at all. I’ve tried finger foods, but Mum is easily distracted, and tends not to eat as much as she should.Knives and forks are out, as food ends up all over the place, and not in her mouth. Her co-ordination with any form of eating utensil is clumsy to say the least.

Persuading someone with dementia to drink is also a problem. The solution here is simple – foods with a high liquid content. Cereals, with plenty of milk, for breakfast, and soups or other high liquid content foods for lunch. I tend to opt for the higher fibre soups containing beans or lentils, although I also use Baxter’s Mediterranean tomato soup, which has a high tomato and vegetable content. Food with a higher fibre content, aids digestion, and helps to avoid constipation.

Heinz now produce a five bean version of baked beans, in their Snap Pots range, and these have proved very successful alongside soups. Beans, as we know, are high in protein and fibre, and the Heinz Snap Pots Five Beanz contain Kidney beans, Haricot, Pinto, Borlotti and Cannellini beans.

OK, so we’ve sorted breakfast and lunch, but what about dinner? After many months of experimenting, I’ve started to compile a list of home-cooked dishes that Mum will eat, with no problem. I have to add at this point, that due to co-ordination issues, I generally spoon feed.

I have produced a concise list (more will be added later) of dishes that Mum will eat, with little or no encouragement. Wherever possible, I try to avoid the use of prescription food supplements such as Fortisip or Calogen. The dishes are varied, and quite cosmopolitan, offering a variety of ingredients and flavours. Thus far, the list consists of the following:

1. Cottage Pie – this is the one and only ready-meal to feature as, to be honest, it’s easier and cheaper in this form – served with a variety of fresh vegetables, primarily broccoli, spinach, cabbage or Brussels sprouts, and gravy.
2. Bangers (sausages) and mash, again with a variety of vegetables, and onion gravy.
3. Chilli con Carne with rice, and plenty of red kidney beans.
4. Spaghetti Bolognese, with added tomatoes and basil.
5. Bauernfruhstuck – Farmer’s Breakfast, a sort of German bubble and squeak, made up of diced potato, bacon or ham, onions, eggs and parsley.
6. Nasi Goreng – an Indonesian fried rice, containing meat (usually chicken, although, I often use bacon lardons), prawns, leeks and rice, using Sambal Oelek (Indonesian and Malay chilli sauce, although Thai Red Chilli sauce can be used as a substitute), topped with a fried egg.
7. Cheese and mushroom omelette.

Of course each individual has a personal taste and preference, but variety, as the saying goes “is the spice of life” (excuse the pun). Finding meals that are acceptable and enjoyable, as well as being nutritious is, of course, paramount.By using meals that have a higher than average liquid content, helps overcome some of the drinking issues faced by care givers of those living with dementia. Without them realising, they are taking on more liquids, helping to counter their unwillingness to drink sufficient fluids.

Drinking is of course still to be encouraged, in order to avoid a variety of problems, including dehydration and potential UTIs. Again, it’s a matter of finding what they will and will not drink. Mum will often drink tea, but not always in sufficient quantities, she is, however, quite partial to apple juice and grape juice, so that helps. Ice cream (of the diabetic type if needed) and yoghurt are also useful for introducing extra fluids. Of the flavoured varieties of yoghurt, I generally favour the Raspberry flavour, as this tends to be higher in fibre than other flavours.

Getting someone living with dementia to eat properly can be difficult. Taking both nutrition and variety into consideration, and then experimenting can help both the caree and the caregiver. Mealtimes become less fraught and more enjoyable for both.