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Getting my Mum to eat

Postby Fiona J on Tue Jul 24, 2012 9:39 am

My Mum has been diagnosed with dementia and one of the things that I've found is that she tends to forget to eat. Given that I don't live with her this is a worry to me. Have you got any suggestions as to how I can get her to eat (and healthily) on a regular basis? Thank you
Fiona J
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Re: Getting my Mum to eat

Postby Nurse Ian Weatherhead on Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:23 pm

Hi Fiona,
Thanks for this question, which I am sure will ring bells for many!

You rightly point out that people can forget to eat and also forget how to prepare meals. However people with dementia often lose their sense of taste too and develop a sweet tooth, often eating copious amounts of chocolate as the sugar makes food taste of something rather than its apparent blandness.
Another thing to be aware of is the fact that appetite often decreases too as the illness progresses, so eating large meals is not a realistic option.
Encouraging and reminding your mum to have small regular snacks might help, even over the phone. Supplement drinks may be available on prescription from your mums GP too, and it might be worthwhile asking the GP for a Dietitions assessment to see if anything else might help. An Occupational Therapy assessment could help with retaining cooking and kitchen skills, and assessing abilities and appliances which might help, easier to hold cutlery for example.
Simple unpatterned crockery can make a difference too, food is much easier to see on a plain white plate for example as awareness of objects often deteriorates.
There are a number of gadgets with alarms to help remind people too, take a look at the Disabled Living Foundations website for further information.
Another issue to be aware of is a decreased ability to swallow, usually caused by loss of control of throat muscles which we take for granted. A simple sign to watch out for is if harder types of food are being left on the plate, meat, tougher vegetables etc.
Getting softer meals, shepherds pie for example can help improve dietary intake. If you suspect this, talk to your mums GP about a Speech and Language Therapy referral, they are masters of assessing swallowing techniques!
You may also want to consider asking the Social Services for a Neds Assessment for your mum, and possibly a Carers Assessment for yourself, even though you don't live together you are still your mums main carer. The assessments might help identify other areas requiring some support, or it may be that someone popping in at meal times either to help prepare a meal, or even meals on wheels with ready meals will help improve intake, and alleviate some of your concerns.
So, lots to look out for and consider, and I hope this helps as a start.!

Kind regards,
Ian Weatherhead
Lead Dementia Nurse
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Nurse Ian Weatherhead
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Re: Getting my Mum to eat

Postby OT Lindsey Skelt on Tue Jul 24, 2012 4:47 pm

Hi Fiona,
Ian is right, I spend a lot of time looking at ways to encourage peope to eat and also maintain independence cooking safely. In addition to Ian's comments I would like to add the following suggestions: Having snack foods, like ceral bars or bowls of fruit on view can act as a prompt to eat particular if a person tends to walk around their house. also if someone is not always making drinks then having the individual juice cartons or small bottles of squash easily to hand can help.

As Ian said Unpatterened crockery is improtant and making sure it is a different colour from the table so it is easily identifiable, you would be surprised at how difficult it can be to identify a plate from the table if they are all a similar colour. There is some American research that shows using Red plates actually helps people eat more. As well as the disabled living foundation companies like Nottingham Rehab supplies and medoris have a lot of gadgets. There are also colour change mugs that will indicate when a drink is the right temperature.

If cooking meals becomes a problem then using a frozen meal service can still be an option if your mum can manage the microwave and/or oven. Sometimes it can be an idea to introduce this idea even when she can still cook meals herself. you dont have to have a frozen meal every day but a useful back up if you dont feel like cooking. I have introduced this suggestion. The person can chose some meals place them in the freezer and then can still chose which days they want a meal and which meal they would like. I have found some companies really good and when a persons abilities have deteriorated so they are having a frozen meal everyday we have established a system where the company have always placed the new frozen meals on the left of the freezer and the lady took them out from the left, that way we were able to monitor that meals were being used each day. I am also aware of situations where families have lived away, so they have discussed the order with their relative over the phone then the family have ordered and paid for the meals on line to have them delivered to their relative.

Ian mentioned An Occupational Therapy assessment, your GP should be able to help with a referral but more information can be found at the College of Occupational Therapists website or

As Ian said lots to look out for but hope this helps

Kind regards
Lindsey Skelt
Occupational Therapist
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OT Lindsey Skelt
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