Why Dementia Patients Benefit from Family Meals

Family meals are a boost for dementia patients. Sitting down to eat a meal in a pleasant atmosphere with a loved one who has dementia might reap some benefit for him or her, suggests a study from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Many people with dementia have difficulty eating and drinking for a number of reasons, which can lead to malnutrition and dehydration.

Researchers analyzed past studies assessing interventions that might aid food and fluid intake in patients with varying degrees of dementia. Although the researchers discovered some promising interventions, they couldn’t draw many firm conclusions about the success of each because most studies were either too small or too short.

They did find, however, that a holistic combination of family-style meals with caregivers, soothing music, and social interaction at mealtime seemed to improve dementia patients’ quality of life. Nonetheless, the researchers didn’t rule out any specific interventions and suggest that caregivers may want to consider some other low-risk interventions that show promise. If you’re caring for someone with dementia, you might want to try the following:

Offer finger foods that are easy to hold, such as fish sticks, chicken nuggets, sandwiches, or orange segments.

Cook “reminiscence” foods that may trigger comforting memories from your loved one’s past.

Puree foods to avoid chewing problems.

Thicken fluids to a nectarlike or honeylike consistency with a commercial thickener to minimize risk of choking or liquid entering the lungs.

Encourage a tucked-chin position when swallowing to reduce the risk of food or drink going down the wrong way.

Keep snacks accessible at all times.

Provide liquid nutritional supplements, drinkable yogurt, or fruit juice between meals.