Majority of people with dementia struggle to eat properly – study

Difficulties include forgetting to eat, forgetting they have eaten, being too tired to eat

Research found 70 per cent experienced weight changes and 60 per cent reported changes in appetite following diagnosis

Research found 70 per cent experienced weight changes and 60 per cent reported changes in appetite following diagnosis

 

Sarah Burns

The majority of people living with dementia in Ireland are struggling to eat properly according to new research.

Difficulties identified include the person forgetting to eat (58 per cent), forgetting they have eaten and eating again (54 per cent), finding it difficult to finish meals (51 per cent) and being too tired to eat (36 per cent).

The research also found the majority of respondents reported a change in their sense of taste (59 per cent), smell (56 per cent) and thirst (52 per cent).

More than half of the respondents said they had greater difficulties chewing and 44 per cent in swallowing food.

The research carried out by Ipsos MRBI and commissioned by Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition and The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, also found that 70 per cent experienced weight changes and 60 per cent reported changes in appetite following diagnosis with dementia.

Challenges in relation to shopping and cooking were also highlighted, as 82 per cent reported that it could be difficult to get to the shops for food, and that shopping can be confusing (88 per cent).

It also found just 6 per cent retained a role in meal preparation following diagnosis and that more than half had not actively searched for information on managing diet.

Tina Leonard, head of advocacy and public affairs at The Alzheimer Society of Ireland said “everyone who has dementia is different”.

“Some people can struggle to eat enough throughout the day to meet their nutritional requirements, while others may forget to eat, thinking they have already eaten, or struggle to finish a meal. This can all become more challenging as dementia progresses,” Ms Leonard said.

Annie McGuinness, family carer and advocate said: “Familiarity and routine play a key role in preparing meals - whether that is going to the same shop to buy food, following the same route around the shop, involving the person in meal preparation and setting the table for the meal.

“I also find that the use of a prompt very useful - such as eating lunch when the news was on,”she said.

The research has been used to formulate a new booklet for families and carers called Eating Well with Dementia. The booklet is now available from The Alzheimer Society of Ireland via their helpline on 1800 341 341, emailing helpline@alzheimer.ie or at alzheimer.ie.