Did you know that over 50 million people live with a form of dementia? In fact, 5.8 million Americans suffer from degenerative brain disease, in the form of Alzheimer’s. As a result, dementia has become the sixth leading cause of death for seniors. With an estimated cost of $290 billion spent by end of 2019, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are a costly cause of crisis for caregivers. By the end of the year, caregivers will have spent nearly 18.5 billion hours attending to dementia patients. So, the fight to provide quality service and maintain the health of our seniors is growing rapidly. Home care operators will need to adapt to this. One way to do this is by leveraging nutrition as a key piece to the puzzle.
Dementia and its impact on nutrition
Individuals with dementia see a cognitive decline and experience increased difficulties surrounding mealtimes. Some of these difficulties result in forgetting to eat, inability to recognize the food offered, difficulty self- feeding, and swallowing disorders. As a result, people with dementia are at a higher risk of malnutrition. Person-centered care goals for these patients should include maintaining intake of food and hydration, improving or maintaining the ability to eat and drink safely, and supporting individual feeding capability for as long as possible.
Meal plans to manage dietary needs
While having good nutrition habits is key to avoiding decline, patients with stages of dementia may not recognize this as a necessity; that’s why it’s important that caregivers ensure proper nutrition is provided. Having a menu that includes essential nutrients that delay mental decline is critical. Specific meal plans that meet not only the individual needs but their desires and preferences can help.
A reputable nutritional plan, such as MIND (Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, will result in improved nutrition intake. Additionally, providing hydration with and without meals frequently can avoid dehydration. Another common concern for memory care settings is the person’s safety when eating or drinking. In later stages, swallowing becomes compromised and patients become at risk for food and liquids getting in their airway or lungs.
While a proper diet will maintain overall nutrition, the dignity of feeding should be maintained at all costs. Individuals with dementia tend to see cognitive declines that impact their basic ability to feed themselves. They may begin to not recognize utensils or foods. Caregivers may reach to adaptive feeding devices and individual food item instructions to adapt to the changes. Nutrition experts, such as a Licensed Speech or Occupational Therapist or Registered Dietitian can guide caregivers with instructions at mealtime.
Manage nutrition with MatrixCare
It is not uncommon for dementia patients to have a decrease in appetite and the ability to feed themselves. With the appropriate guidance, mealtime can become an opportunity rather than a risk.