The Importance of Mealtimes for Alzheimer’s Patients
Finding purposeful activities and a focus for enjoyment in the lives of people with Alzheimer’s can be difficult. Most people with dementia continue to enjoy their food however. Mealtimes are also one of the regular times for people to move from their own rooms and from communal sitting areas to meet others in a social setting. Mealtimes give the day a regular and predictable structure.
There are some fundamental rules to successful dining in nursing homes. You must provide good quality, well presented food that meets the dietary requirements of each resident. Patients need to be made ready so that toileting and hygiene routines are complete. The dining area needs to be warm, welcoming with not too much noise. There needs to be enough staff to assist those too confused or disabled to eat. Nursing and care staff, cleaners, cooks, occupational therapists, physical therapists, administrators, are central to promoting a good relaxing and fun atmosphere. Some good nursing homes encourage staff to eat with residents.
Table companions, understandably, take on huge importance in residential care. Poorly matched residents make very unhappy residents and it can sometimes lead to depression, increased social isolation, disturbed behavior and disempowerment. Well matched eating companions will, even if they have severe memory, cognitive and physical disabilities, enjoy meeting, communicating, and looking out for each other. If residents are put together with others who have similar remaining skills it will be more likely to have the best outcome.
Gossip, moans and groans all help to cement friendships. People with dementia need to feel valued and feel they are an active member of a community.
Mealtimes are also opportunities for staff to assess resident’s progress and spot early signs of deteriorating mental states and early signs of illness or functional difficulties. Poor appetite, changes in social interaction, increased confusion and poor orientation can indicate something is wrong and the resident’s health status investigated. Mealtimes can be also be good times to assess the effectiveness of new medications, evaluate behavioral programmes and try to get the resident’s views on things.
Mealtimes can vary from the ideal to complete chaos. It is important for staff to recognise that dementia care is a demanding job and that we need each others support. The aim of caregiving is to maximise the patients’ quality of life.
Berg, Grethe. The Importance of Food and Mealtimes in Dementia Care. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006.