Dementia support: helping with eating and drinking
Dementia is a progressive condition. Over time, changes to memory, concentration and coordination can become more common. This can affect how a person eats and drinks. If you are a carer of a person with a dementia, you can do things to encourage them to eat and drink.
How to help with memory and concentration changes
Over time, a person with a dementia can have difficulties concentrating and sitting at a table to eat a meal.
If you are caring for a person with a dementia, you might think:
- they have finished eating
- they aren't hungry
If they don't eat enough or eat unhealthy food, they can become vulnerable to other illnesses. People with a dementia can become more confused if they get ill.
To encourage them to eat and drink, you can:
- invite them to the table when the meal is ready so they don’t have to wait
- direct their attention to the food
- put the cutlery or cup in their hand if needed or guide them to take the first mouthful
- feed them the first mouthful if necessary and then encourage them to feed themselves
- remind them to swallow each mouthful as needed
- use gentle physical prompts, like putting the cutlery or cup back in their hands
- if they leave the table, gently guide them back and prompt them to continue
- if they forget they have already eaten or are concerned about when is their next meal, reassure them and provide them with a snack if appropriate
- eat with them, this makes eating a social activity and can help them stay independent as they may copy what you are doing
- keep encouraging them to feed themselves, if they are having difficulties, feed them some or all of the meal
How to help with coordination changes
A person with a dementia often has difficulty feeding themselves. It is important to encourage them when they are eating and drinking as it helps their independence. It also can help the swallowing process.
Things that can help include:
- cutting food up before presenting it
- only giving them the cutlery that is needed
- putting the cutlery or cup directly into their hand
- using plates and tablecloths of different colours
- making sure the table is not cluttered
- serving one course at a time
- using finger foods such as sandwiches, slices of fruit or vegetables and cheese
- giving gentle verbal encouragement, for example, “oh this smells lovely”
- using gentle physical prompts, for example, place your hand over the person’s hand to guide their food or drink to their mouth
- only as a last resort consider feeding them part or all of the meal
- many people will still be able to hold a cup after the ability to use a fork or spoon has been lost, and this should be encouraged
Where to find help and support
Living with a dementia can bring different changes to a person’s life that are individual to them. As a carer, there are ways you can help support them in their everyday life and activities.
If you're concerned about the person you're caring for, you can speak to their GP.
They can refer you to a relevant health professional including:
- occupational therapist
- speech and language therapist
For more help and advice about supporting a person living with a dementia, read about:
- How to support a person with a dementia
- Dementia support: understanding and helping with swallowing issues
- Dementia support: understanding and helping with changing behaviour at mealtimes
- Find support near you
You can find more information and support services from the following organisations, see also ‘more useful links section’:
The Public Health Agency has also produced a range of information to help support people with a dementia, their families and friends.
This information includes the following publications:
- Ten common signs of dementia
- Early stages of dementia
- Communicating effectively with a person living with dementia
- Are you worried about dementia?
Dementia apps library
The ‘Apps4Dementia’ library is a digital service which groups together safe, trusted apps to provide information and guidance on the condition.
There a number of apps that offer support, self-care of symptoms and enable users to carry on with their day-to-day activities for as long as possible.
More useful links
- Dementia services - Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
- Dementia services - Northern Health and Social Care Trust
- Dementia services - South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
- Memory/ dementia services - Southern Health and Social Care Trust
- Dementia services - Western Health and Social Care Trust