Some people with dementia find that their appetite changes. They might feel more or less hungry or have unhealthy cravings. Because of appetite changes, people with dementia sometimes gain or lose weight. Some people with dementia can forget to eat and become malnourished.
Research shows that a Mediterranean diet can help prevent dementia, but we don’t have proof that this diet helps people who have dementia. The Mediterranean diet has less sugar, less red meats and less processed foods. You don’t have to cook Mediterranean recipes, just eat foods commonly found in Mediterranean diets:
- plenty of vegetables
- some fruit
- fish and seafood
- olive oil
- smaller amounts of meat
- some dairy.
Studies suggest that people who are dehydrated don’t think as well. Stay hydrated by drinking at least 8 cups of water a day. It’s easy to forget to drink, and the ability to sense thirst goes down with age.
Make it part of your routine to have a glass of water with every meal, and in between meals too. Water is the healthiest choice, but tea, milk, juice, and soup can also help you stay hydrated.
Drinking a lot of alcohol (i.e. more than 7 drinks a week for women, or more than 14 drinks a week for men) increases the risk of getting dementia. Heavy drinking may also speed up deterioration in people with dementia. For more information, read our recent blog post Alcohol and dementia.
Tips to maintaining good nutrition
- If shopping is difficult, consider using online shopping with home delivery. This is offered by the larger supermarkets, but many shops in small towns will offer this service.
- Consider getting a meal service. You can order a couple of meals a week from a provider like Hello Fresh or Marley Spoon who will deliver all ingredients with a recipe for a meal of your choice. This can be a good way to try new meals and add variety to the weekly diet.
- Supermarkets often sell pre-prepared vegetables for salads, soups and stews. This can cut down on preparation time.
- Cook in bulk. When you cook, make double quantities and freeze portions for later.
- Ask others to help. Often family members or neighbours are happy to cook extra meals to freeze.
- Involve the person with dementia in cooking. Even if they haven’t been interested in cooking previously, get them involved particularly in meal preparation. Preparation can sometimes stimulate the appetite.
- Keep nutritious snacks like nuts, unsweetened yoghurt and fresh fruit on hand.
- If you need to change diet, do it gradually. Start with one or two small food changes until they become habit. For instance, drinking enough water, or eating more vegetables.
There are current research studies into a variety of nutritional supplements to determine if they reduce symptoms of dementia.
There is some evidence the supplement ‘Souvenaid’ may help slow progression in early Alzheimer’s disease. It is available via pharmacies and online chemists. Current Australian Dementia Guidelines recommend that Souvenaid not be used for people with moderate or severe dementia. Read more about this Souvenaid on Dementia Australia’s website.
If you are at all concerned about your nutrition – or the nutrition of the person you support, ask your GP to check levels of key vitamins and various blood markers for nutrition.
If required, your GP can refer you to a dietitian for specific advice. You may be able to do this as part of a chronic disease management plan, and get subsidised visits to a dietician.
Dietitians can advise on particular issues that may affect eating, including poor teeth or dry mouth, as well as a healthy diet if people have other chronic health conditions. Visit Dietitians Australia to find a dietitian near you.