Nutritional interventions are frequently needed among dementia patients to assist in preventing or at least delaying weight loss and malnutrition. This article will explore some of the best food options for dementia patients to eat.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a general umbrella term used to describe a group of progressive conditions affecting cognition, memory, judgment, and reasoning.
There are multiple forms of dementia including:
- Alzheimer’s Disease: progressive brain disease causing memory impairment and declines in cognitive function.
- Vascular Dementia: caused by impaired blood supply to the brain
- Lewy Body Dementia: protein deposits in the brain impact chemicals affecting memory, behavior, and mood.
- Parkinson’s related dementia: impaired thinking and reasoning that develops during the progression of Parkinson’s disease
Dementia Risk Factors
- High cholesterol
Nutritional Implications of Dementia
- Forgetting to eat meals
- Inability to ask for food
- Decreased sense of hunger and thirst
- Self feeding difficulties
- Decreased sense of smell and taste
- Dysphagia: swallowing difficulty
- Visual changes
- Refusal of care
Malnutrition can speed up progression of dementia by worsening cognition and increasing frailty with muscle wasting. A higher BMI (Body Mass Index) may be protective against poor health outcomes in dementia patients (3).
Best Foods for Dementia Patients
As we age, taste changes are common. Sweet is typically the last to diminish. Dementia patients frequently have a preference for sweet foods.
While high sugar foods do not typically have many vitamins or minerals, they are high in calories. This can be helpful for dementia patients who need high calorie foods to meet their energy needs.
Sprinkling sugar onto savory foods can also be an effective way to increase consumption of other foods. Since taste is commonly declined sugar can actually make savory foods have flavor again, which may increase intake.
- Put meat/protein on rolls or bread
- Cut proteins in “finger” slices for easy pick up
- Drain vegetables and canned fruits for cleaner grasping
- Serve soup in a mug
- Put sauce on the side for dipping instead of on items
- Give bite size servings
- Try non-finger foods in individual bowls
Calorically Dense Foods
Since intake is frequently declined during dementia, it can be beneficial to make every bite count. Serving high calorie foods to dementia patients can increase nutritional intake.
Increase calories in food items by adding extra butter, gravy, cream sauce, cheese, sour cream, sugar, or peanut butter.
Oral Nutrition Supplements
Nutritional needs are difficult to be met by many dementia patients. While a food first approach is ideal, fluids may be better accepted.
Nutrition supplements can be a successful way of adding additional calories, proteins, and other nutrients to a dementia patient’s diet.
Ideally they are provided between meals so as to not interfere in meal intake. However could also be offered after a meal if intake is inadequate.
Serving sweets, finger foods, high calorie foods, preferred foods, and/or nutritional supplements can help to delay weight loss and malnutrition in dementia patients.
Frequently the best foods for dementia patients to eat are whatever sounds good and that they are willing to eat.