Reflective accounts

Nutrition in dementia

This CPD article provided tools and strategies to help healthcare professionals adopt a holistic approach when caring for patients with dementia.

Picture credit: Science photo library

Gaining an understanding of what foods and drinks a patient does and does not like and how often they usually eat enables the healthcare team to accommodate their preferences. Familiar foods can also be a source of comfort and security for patients with dementia during stressful events, such as admission to hospital.

Knowing the patient’s preferred diet and fluids can help promote better recovery, and prevent pressure ulcers and urinary tract infections. Managing a patient’s diet also presents an opportunity to work with family members and encourage them to become more involved in patient care, for example bringing food in for the patient and eating with them.

Reflecting on my practice, I recall many patients who would have benefited from the introduction of familiar finger foods to their diet. This strategy would be ideal for patients who do not finish whole meals or find eating a complete meal too stressful. Small portions would be appropriate for patients who take a long time to eat, can only manage small bites or are not used to the eating times in hospital or the care setting.

Before reading the article I was not familiar with the Edinburgh Feeding Evaluation in Dementia Scale. I intend to discuss this tool with the local dementia team and suggest its use on wards throughout the hospital. If this scale were completed for every patient with dementia on admission, staff could ensure they received appropriate meals from the start of their hospital stay, rather than trying to get them to eat from the standard menu.

Practical solutions

This CPD has prompted me to examine situations and consider potential solutions. A patient may no longer be able to use a knife and fork, but if you cut up their food they can use a spoon to feed themselves. A patient’s difficulty with chewing may be a barrier at mealtimes, but if they are given soft foods they may be able to feed themselves with minimal difficulty.

The article increased my understanding of the complexities of dementia, experienced by both the patient and their family. This has encouraged me to consider other aspects of dementia care that may need to be evaluated, such as sleep. I intend to encourage other students and staff to read this article and increase their awareness of dementia care, with the aim of decreasing the number of stressful episodes for dementia patients.

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