It’s natural for caregivers to worry if their loved one is getting sufficient nourishment. People with dementia are often a challenge because they forget to eat, or they may have problems remembering how to transfer food from the plate to their mouths. Some people have trouble chewing and swallowing, especially during later stages of dementia.
Since depression is another issue that is common for people with dementia, a Taiwanese addressed these issues together. The study, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, found that dementia patients who received individualized instruction on good eating habits had fewer symptoms of depression.
This study focused on individuals who weren’t eating well because their dementia interfered with "identifying foods, transferring foods, chewing, and swallowing," resulting in poor nutrition.
For the study, researchers Li-Chan Lin, Ph.D., R.N., of National Yang-Ming University and Hua-Shan Wu, Ph.D., R.N., of Shan Medical University randomly assigned 90 patients an individualized or non-individualized version of the program. Both versions included training sessions lasting 35-40 minutes three times a week. The training focused on eight basic eating behaviors, from remembering mealtimes to swallowing after chewing.
Not surprisingly, the greatest improvement of nutritional status and depressive symptoms were among those in the group that received individualized intervention.
Individual attention vital for elders to thrive
This study was done with specifically trained people using strict methods of interacting with the people they were coaching, and the focus was to train them to remember how to eat. My non-scientific, non-medical heart tells me that there was likely more than training involved in the improvement of the individual’s mental health. The individualized attention given the elder’s in the successful group must have had value, in itself. I’m not suggesting that training people with dementia to remember how to eat isn’t important, and I’m sure that good nutrition often does help people feel less depressed. I’m simply expressing my belief that in many cases individual attention on its own can also help people feel less depressed.
Many studies have found that hands-on individual attention can even replace drug therapy in people with Alzheimer’s. In nursing homes that offer consistent assignment, where one caregiver becomes very close to the resident as opposed to rotating caregivers, improvements in cognitive and physical health are often the result. Elderly people often feel invisible as younger people rush around "doing things." Simply having someone they can count on to listen to their specific needs can make a tremendous difference to an elder.
The study on individualized eating may prove to be important in helping elders with dementia stay more independent. If so, that’s wonderful news. However, in the end, just having a caregiver direct his or her complete attention toward an elder can’t help but have a positive effect, as well. Eye contact, a soothing voice and soft touch can change the day for an elder. Such attention reduces loneliness, which in turn has many health benefits. A better appetite may be one of them.
Petersen, T. (2013, March 3) Individualized Eating Program Lowers Depression in Dementia Patients. PsychCentral. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/03/03/individualized-eating-program-lowers-depression-in-dementia-patients/52125.html
Span, P. (2011, February 15) Clearing the Fog in Nursing Homes. The New Old Age Blog. Retrieved from http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/clearing-the-fog-in-nursing-homes/?ref=health
Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (2012, November 21) Six Steps to Reduce Dementia’s Most Troubling Symptoms. NewsWise. Retrieved from http://www.newswise.com/articles/six-steps-to-reduce-dementia-s-most-troubling-symptoms
Misiorski, S. (2011, July 12) Investment in frontline staff pays off for providers. Long-term Living. Retrieved from http://www.ltlmagazine.com/blogs/smisiorski/investment-frontline-staff-pays-providers
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.