Sadly, dementia patients often refuse to eat and/or lack appetite, which can be a source of worry and frustration for caregivers. The risk of your loved one choking or inhaling food into their lungs is too high to force them to eat. A loved one with dementia who refuses to eat requires creative, compassionate solutions.
There is a range of factors that may cause dementia sufferers to lose their appetite, including confusion, mood, and inability to recognise hunger signals. The body shuts down due to the progression of dementia in severe-stage sufferers who lose appetite/interest in food. Here are some tips for coping with dementia-related refusal to eat:
Advice on Eating and Dementia
- Examine whether their vision is a contributing factor. If they’re not finishing their meal, try turning their plate 180 degrees and then see if they finish.
- Find contrasts and colours. White plates on white tablecloths may distract your loved one, while colourful dishes can aid their focus.
- Besides water, find alternative hydration methods. Try soup or cereal as a liquid meal.
- Your loved one’s eating habits might be caused by dental issues. If necessary, take them to the dentist if there is redness, swelling, or pain.
- Consider heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea, and nausea as possible causes of your loved one’s refusal to eat. Inquire about any medications the patient is taking that might be causing the loss of appetite.
- Snacks and meals should be small, frequent, and easy to eat.
- Walking can stimulate appetites, so encourage your loved one to get some light exercise. Find ideas for exercises to help those with dementia.
- Provide your loved one with a drink or moistened sponge so that they can stay comfortable. A drop of honey or maple syrup or small amounts of juice may also be pleasant.
- Speak to your loved one’s doctor about the possibility of prolonging life through artificial nutrition and hydration.
- Join caregiver support groups. They offer valuable advice from people who have been in similar situations.
Remember, your loved one is an adult, not a child. If your loved one refuses to eat, do not punish them; simply try another tactic and start over. It may be possible to come up with a solution that will satisfy their hunger and reduce your worries at the same time.
For further information about the help we can give you call our experienced team at HomeCare Mellor on 01772 722 985 or 01254 689 981
Coronavirus restrictions continue to be lifted now that most adults in the UK have received vaccinations and pressure on the NHS has decreased. However, keeping safe and minimizing risk will always be important for people with dementia.
COVID-19: How to stay safe
Coronavirus vaccination offers the best protection against COVID-19. In addition to strong protection for you, the vaccine helps prevent the spread of Coronavirus to others. In the case of newer variants of the virus, a single dose will only provide limited protection, so it is very important to have both doses.
It’s still imperative that you keep yourself and others safe, even after getting both vaccines against Coronavirus. There will likely be a large increase in the amount of virus spread throughout the community as people begin mixing more over the coming weeks and months.
People in the UK are being advised to remain cautious and act responsibly. England has, however, removed all legal restrictions. Face covering is no longer a legal requirement everywhere. Yet there may still be a requirement to enter some places, such as on public transport in London, Scotland, and Wales. You can still wear a mask if you wish to, despite the lifting of legal restrictions.
Even after social distancing measures are loosened, Coronavirus is still in circulation, including easily transmissible strains. In crowds and when meeting other people, it is still important to be cautious to reduce the risk of getting or spreading Coronavirus.
Coronavirus guidance with dementia
Dementia makes this more difficult. A person may not understand what guidance means, or they may forget how to remain safe.
Describe the guidance clearly in a calm manner to the person. Consider our suggestions for effective communication. Perhaps mentioning that the advice is from the NHS, GP, or someone the person trusts can help. By following the guidelines, Coronavirus rates are likely to remain low thus fewer people become seriously ill.
During the time you are with the person, you may need to reiterate this information to remind them why they should follow the guidelines.
Assisting the person in feeling confident about getting out
Everyone can now go out more as there are no restrictions on exercising or leaving the house. Many people with dementia enjoy walking, and physical exercise is good for all of us.
During the pandemic, many individuals living with dementia lost skills or independence. Staying active helps those living with dementia maintain their independence. By doing so, they can regain the skills and motivation that they may have lost during the lockdown.
You might find it helpful to:
- Rather than focusing on what they can’t do, encourage the person to rebuild their confidence by focusing on what they can do
- To ease the person back into their former favourite activities, support them in returning to them. This might require adjusting the way they do things, or reducing the time they spend doing them
- Help them to go at a pace that is most comfortable for them.
While out and about, however, it is important to follow the safety guidelines and minimise the risk of injury.
You might also find the following suggestions helpful:
- By placing a simple poster near the front door, they’ll be reminded to carry a face shield when necessary (unless exempt) and to be careful in crowded places
- Consider using assistive technology, such as a device that plays an automated reminder that you can customise, telling you the pandemic is still ongoing and that you need to use caution when outdoors
- Walking in quieter areas and at quieter times.
Maintaining an active lifestyle
In addition, you and the person you care for should stay:
- Taking part in physical activity – whether indoors or outdoors
- Engaging mentally – by trying a new activity (online or off), or learning a new skill
- Stay in touch with your friends and family to stay socially active.
Engage the person in choosing what you do at home and in the community. Activities should be enjoyable, meaningful, and tailored to a person’s interests and preferences. Feelings of stress, anxiety, and low mood can also be eased by physical exercise and having a sense of purpose.
Maintaining good hygiene
To prevent Coronavirus from spreading, it is still important to keep hands clean and follow good respiratory hygiene. Examples include:
- It is recommended that you wash your hands often with soap and water (or, if this is not possible, you must use a hand sanitiser)
- If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands.
- Dispose of used tissues as soon as possible
- Keep your hands away from your face.
The importance of handwashing cannot be overstated. When you come home from being outside or shopping, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and before you eat or handle food, wash your hands. As soon as you arrive at work and as soon as you leave, wash your hands.
Alzheimer’s patients may not be able to remember how to take care of themselves if they have memory problems or are confused.
Encourage them to stay safe by following these tips:
- You can hang reminder signs or posters near hand basins.
- Set reminders such as: “Time to wash your hands.” using digital devices.
- Encourage the person by washing your hands together.
- You can simplify the task if this makes it easier for them to follow.
- Talk to the person while handwashing to find out how this makes them feel
- Observing what’s going on around the person can help with anxiety.
- Instead of criticising errors, offer encouragement and praise.
If a person is not familiar with liquid soap, it may be helpful to use a traditional soap bar in a colour different from the sink.
Hand moisturisers and barrier creams will help keep skin healthy if you wash or use hand sanitiser more frequently.
It is much easier to spread Coronavirus inside than outside. When someone in the household has a Coronavirus or someone is visiting, it’s especially important to ensure that the indoor spaces have a supply of fresh air.
The easiest way to get fresh air is to open the windows, as long as it is safe for you to do so without cooling the room too much. Make sure any vents or grilles on the top of your windows are open.
The availability of medicines
Each member of the household must have the necessary medication to remain healthy.
Repeat prescriptions should be available to you, or the person you care for, through your GP surgery or a pharmacy as they were before the restrictions.
You can order repeat prescriptions online if you can – or have someone who you trust do it for you – if you do not feel comfortable going out for now. For help or if you cannot order online, contact your GP surgery or local pharmacy. They may offer a delivery service to assist you.
If you don’t live with the person
Ensure the person with dementia knows how much help is available if you live apart from them. You should know who to contact if they don’t have a plan. Put important contact information near the phone. You can also:
- Find local community support groups.
- Stay in touch with them if you or they are isolating themselves or minimizing social contact. Social media platforms such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom allow people to stay in touch via video calls. This approach isn’t for everyone. Instead of using these tools, you could call, text, write letters, or post family photos. Establishing regular times and days for calls can give a person structure and something to anticipate. Connecting with the person will make them feel loved and may keep you in their thoughts. Their feelings of sadness and loneliness will be reduced if they feel connected to you.
- Discuss scams with the individual. They need to be informed about the scams involving Coronavirus so that they know what to look out for.
To maintain overall well-being, it is essential for a person living with dementia to engage in meaningful activities. As part of caring for someone with dementia, such as in their own home, various activities can be undertaken together.
Dementia-friendly activities can be great for boosting moods and bringing joy, but it is important to take into consideration the abilities, likes and dislikes of the person with dementia in order to provide engaging and enjoyable activities.
This article presents some fantastic dementia activities that anyone with dementia and their caregiver can enjoy together.
During the course of dementia, it becomes more challenging for someone to recall memories, and sometimes prompts are necessary. A great activity for sparking conversations and bringing back fond memories is to reminisce together.
An exciting reminiscence activity is to listen together to the music that the person with dementia is familiar with, such as a wedding song or a song from their era. Ask gentle questions like ‘did you enjoy dancing to this song?’ and ‘did they play this at parties?’ so the person with dementia can share their stories about the song.
Another great way to spark memories is to look through old photographs together and talk about the places and people featured. Alternatively, if it isn’t possible for the person to provide their own photos, carefully selected pictures from postcards or magazines that have meant something to them can be used.
Photos of places or things can evoke memories; why not use pictures of places like holiday destinations or sports games?
Arts and Crafts
It is well known that creative activities are fantastic for boosting mood and promoting relaxation while also providing a sense of accomplishment.
A person’s abilities and preferences should be taken into account when planning the activities.
Painting from a still life object, colouring in an age-appropriate picture, making decorations, or knitting together are all possible activities. Providing encouragement as a caregiver can be just as important as ensuring they complete the activity. Seeing the creation displayed can also help to reinforce the sense of achievement.
Staying active can promote mental health and physical well-being as we age. The range of activities and exercises available to older adults may change depending on their mobility, balance, cognitive or vision challenges, but they can still remain active.
Daily activity can be provided by doing some seated exercises together or taking a walk around the garden.
With age, our senses can sometimes decline, causing us to withdraw from activities or conversations. You can offer a multitude of benefits and enhance the quality of life by exploring meaningful sensory activities together. People living with dementia can benefit greatly from engaging in sensory activities, especially if their communication is limited or they are not able to go outdoors as often.
The sense of smell or music can transport someone to a fond memory and reduce agitation with sensory activities.
It can be fun and engaging to create a sensory box together, which can be revisited over and over again. Place items that will both engage the senses and hold significance for the person in the box. It can be a CD with a favourite song, a photograph of a loved one, a familiar fragrance or garment.
You can ask gentle questions to spark conversation as you place each item into (or take it out of) the box.
For a carer and a person living with dementia, there are many activities available. Whenever choosing an activity, it is important to consider the person’s routine, preferences, and hobbies, as those that are meaningful or fond will be most enjoyable.