Dementia and Nutrition

When it comes to the elderly with dementia nutrition is often overlooked. We try to check on our loved ones and buy groceries or ask them if they have eaten. Many elderly especially those with dementia are at risk of malnutrition. A study from the PMC US National Library of medicine from New Zealand says that 46.6% were at risk of malnutrition and 26.9% were malnourished at the time of hospital admission.  With these hospital admissions 88% came in from the community. This is an alarming statistic because most people try to do the best they can to care for their elderly loved ones. 

Here are some of the symptoms of malnutrition to look out for

  1. Weak immune system or slow healing
  2. Muscle weakness
  3. Weight loss

Here are some of the causes of poor nutrition for the elderly with dementia.

  • Not able to shop or prepare food
  • Poor appetite
  • Less structure around eating and drinking
  • Not remembering to eat
  • Losing the ability to feed themselves
  • Dysphagia

Now that we know the causes a few of these can be fixed by having appropriate care. As a caregiver you must try to make sure that appropriate food is available. You will need to observe your loved on to make sure they are eating. Take time sit down and have meals occasionally and really see that they do eat. Keeping a food log is always a good idea so that you can see what their favorite foods are and if there are different times that your loved one loses appetite. Medications can cause loss of appetite so do keep close observation when starting new medications. The other issue outside of appropriate care is dysphagia. In this study they talk about grip strength and poor cognition and how it can determine risk of malnutrition. The reason is that the lower strength is related to swallowing difficulty also known as dysphagia(link definition). With dysphagia you have to make certain adjustments to the diet. If your loved one has dysphagia they must have soft foods and thickened liquids, if liquids are too thin they may aspirate(definition) and get pneumonia. With food being in it’s normal form it can be a choke risk. Here is a link to some dysphagia diet recommendations from GI

With proper care and diet changes you can make sure that your loved one has their nutritional needs met. It is still debated and being studied about the effects of nutrition on cognitive decline. In the Cache County dementia progression study they say improving nutrition may lessen dementia severity and lower caregiver burden. If your loved one is getting their nutritional needs met they are stronger and healthier and can have a better quality of life and that is the goal for everyone.