Dementia is a group of symptoms involving impaired mental functions, including memory and reasoning. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause. According to the Cleveland Clinic, as many as 50 other known causes exist. These include stroke, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's, infections such as HIV and transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, chronic alcohol or drug use, injuries and brain tumors. People with dementia need help with food choices and often the act of eating itself.
Dementia most often affects older people and older people often have problems with constipation, making consumption of dietary fiber important. The Ohio State University Medical Center advises introducing additional fiber slowly so the body has time to adjust. Good sources of fiber are whole grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables. The recommended fiber intake for adults is 25 grams per day for women, and 38 grams for men, up to age 50. Women over 50 should have 21 grams per day, while men over 50 should have 30 grams, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Frequent Small Meals
Because of concentration problems, poor appetite or changes in how food tastes, people with dementia cannot always eat a full meal at one sitting. Frequent, smaller meals may be the answer, says the OSU Medical Center. Food typically served in three meals can be divided with some served between meals. For example, a bowl of oatmeal made with milk instead of water for added nutrition and juice could be breakfast; at mid-morning, the person could eat a hard boiled egg and a piece of fruit.
Sauces, Gravy and Seasoning
Older people's mouths produce less saliva, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC. A dry mouth interferes with chewing and swallowing so the OSU Medical Center suggests adding sauces or gravy. Taste also diminishes with age, so the added flavor of sauces and gravy can help stimulate taste buds and provide extra nutrition and calories. Use spices and other seasonings to help stimulate the taste buds, but don't overuse salt which can add to health problems, such as hypertension. The UMMC says the ability to taste salt is one of the first lost, making it easy to overdo its use. Gravies and sauces can also be high in fat. A 2006 issue of "Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders" reports that high intake of saturated fats can increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, starting in mid-life.
People with dementia sometimes develop difficulty swallowing, a condition also known as dysphagia. It is dangerous because it can lead to choking and food or liquid being aspirated into the lungs. If the person has dysphagia, avoid giving hard-to-chew foods, such as raw vegetables. Instead, puree cooked vegetables and meat. Thicken soups and beverages with commercially available thickeners that do not affect the flavor of food. Taste is still important so puree several vegetables together for added nutrition and taste, and use spices and other seasonings to add flavor to the food.
Is This an Emergency?
- Cleveland Clinic: Types of Dementia
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Aging Changes in the Senses - Overview
- Institute of Medicine: Recommended Dietary Intakes
- Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders: Fat Intake at Midlife and Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease: A Population-Based Study
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: Dysphagia