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Making the Most of Mealtimes for People With Alzheimer’s

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Getting people with Alzheimer’s to eat and drink enough can be a challenging part of day-to-day care. But good nutrition and proper hydration is critical for overall health and well-being. Caregivers can take various steps to makes mealtimes more healthful for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, according to a new report.

“We wanted to find out what families or caregivers can do to help people with dementia eat well and drink enough,” said Dr. Lee Hooper, the lead researcher, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School in Britain. “The risk of dehydration and malnutrition are high in older people, but even higher in those with dementia.”

For the study, the researchers looked at the body of research on eating and dementia, assessing the effectiveness of dozens of interventions aimed at improving mealtime nutrition. They found that although no one approach provided unequivocal success, a variety of measures can be effective in helping people with Alzheimer’s eat better, maintain body weight and avoid dehydration.

Among the most effective measures, the researchers found, was eating together and providing social support and interaction during meals. Longer mealtimes and eating meals family-style, with caregivers, family members and others joining in, could also help boost nutrition. So could organized “breakfast clubs” aimed at encouraging social interaction at the start of the day, as well as providing easily accessible snacks at all times.

Playing soothing music during mealtimes was also often helpful for encouraging eating and proper hydration. Exercises that promoted the use of multiple senses – hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling – also seemed to aid nutrition.

Visual and perception problems can contribute to difficulty in someone with Alzheimer’s, making it hard to see food. Plates, serving dishes, utensils and tablecloths that are a similar color or that have busy patterns may make it harder for someone with Alzheimer’s to see the food on their plate. Instead, choose a bold simple color that’s different for each.

“Providing education and support for formal and informal caregivers were also promising,” Dr. Hooper said. “It is probably not just what people with dementia eat and drink that is important for their nutritional wellbeing and quality of life, but a holistic mix of where they eat and drink, the atmosphere, physical and social support offered, the understanding of formal care-givers, and levels of physical activity enjoyed.”

The study, published in the journal BioMed Central Geriatrics, underscores the importance of social contacts and the benefits of daily stimulations that involve multiple senses. For more ideas on improving nutrition and hydration, see the alzinfo.org story, “Dementia at the Dinner Table,” at https://www.alzinfo.org/treatment-care/blogs/2014/11/dementia-at-the-dinner-table/

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Diane K. Bunn, Asmaa Abdelhamid, Maddie Copley, et al: “Effectiveness of interventions to indirectly support food and drink intake in people with dementia: Eating and Drinking Well IN dementiA (EDWINA) systematic review.” BioMed Central (BMC) Geriatrics, May 4, 2016.

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