Nursing homes often have a dietician on staff to help ensure that residents are getting an appropriate balance of nutrition. Nursing homes that care for patients with dementia will find that these residents have unique nutrition-related needs. Individuals with dementia often struggle with making decisions about which foods to eat. They also may forget to eat, which is why it is so important for nursing home staff to monitor eating habits and ensure that healthy foods are available.
The Importance of Proper Nutrition for Dementia Patients
Proper nutrition is important for the body and mind. For individuals with dementia, nutrition is an important factor in maintaining a healthy weight. Without proper nutrition and hydration, individuals with dementia may enter a state of delirium – a condition that rapidly decreases mental and physical wellbeing.
Proper nutrition is also important for helping residents be comfortable and as independent as possible. As dementia advances, tastes and preferences may change, and nursing home dietitians will have the task of finding foods that the individual enjoys, and that will also provide adequate nutrition. Advancing dementia also commonly causes fluctuations in appetite, and it is important to ensure that residents do not under eat or over eat.
Tips for Balanced Nutrition and Boosted Health
Nursing home dietitians and staff can help residents with dementia overcome obstacles and get the nutrition they need by doing the following:
- Offer a Variety of Foods – Offer a menu that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and healthy snacks.
- Limit Cholesterol and Saturated Fat – Create menus for residents that include heart-healthy fats, and limit bad fats. Butter, shortening, fatty meats, and lard should be avoided.
- Reduce Refined Sugar – Many processed foods use refined sugar. Refined sugars do not have vitamins or minerals, so, when possible, choose natural sweeteners or limit offerings with refined sugar.
- Reduce Sodium – Foods that are high in sodium or salt can raise blood pressure and contribute to many health problems.
What are the Best Foods for Dementia Patients?
A well-balanced diet not only feeds your body, but it also feeds your brain. Some research suggests that eating certain foods can help mitigate the symptoms related to dementia, or even aid in regression. Recommended foods for dementia patients include:
Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to boost brain health.
Collards, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are excellent sources of Vitamin B9 (folate). Folate is known to reduce depression by increasing serotonin levels. Leafy greens also have Vitamin E, which has many benefits for mind and body.
Beans contain potassium, magnesium, iron, and folate. They also contain choline, which supercharges acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter), which boosts brain function.
Cruciferous vegetables like bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are known to contain folate and carotenoids. Folate and carotenoids lower homocysteine (an amino acid), which contributes to cognitive impairment.
Dark chocolate is a well-known antioxidant, which improves blood flow. The darker the chocolate is, the more flavanols, which improve brain function.
Nuts contain a hearty dose of protein, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, Vitamins E and B6, and magnesium. Eating a healthy serving of nuts can improve mood, and reduce the chances of memory loss.
Many herbs and spices have properties that boost mind and body health. Cinnamon is said to enhance cognitive processing, while curry and turmeric reduce inflammation.
How to Overcome Obstacles to a Healthy Diet
Cognitive decline in dementia patients can create obstacles to eating a healthy diet. As noted before, individuals with dementia may forget to eat, may become overwhelmed, or have difficulty choosing healthy food options. Caregivers can overcome obstacles by doing the following:
- Limit distractions during mealtime.
- Arrange table settings in a simple and easy-to-use manner.
- Use contrasting colors to distinguish the table, plate or bowl, and food being presented.
- Make sure that foods are cooked properly.
- Test the temperature of foods or drinks before serving.
- Serve one or two dishes at a time, rather than presenting the individual with an assortment of options, which can be overwhelming.
- Understand that preferences change, and be flexible.
- Allow plenty of time to eat. This ensures proper chewing and swallowing, and reduces choking risk.
- Make mealtime for an enjoyable and social experience.
- Keep a record of when each resident ate or drank. Individuals with dementia may not remember when they last ate, or what they ate.
By using these strategies, nursing home staff and caregivers can ensure that residents with dementia are getting the best nutrition possible for a healthy lifestyle.
About The Author:
Susan Price is an ongoing contributor to Nursing Home Abuse Center, covering topics such as caregiving, nursing home abuse, safety, health and wellness, and legal matters.