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:

  • dietitian
  • physiotherapist
  • occupational therapist
  • speech and language therapist

For more help and advice about supporting a person living with a dementia, read about:

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:

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 

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912
Email 
dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 
Email 
customerservice.unit@communities-ni.gov.uk

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email:
rating@lpsni.gov.uk

For queries or advice about property valuation, email:
valuation@lpsni.gov.uk

For queries or advice about land registry, email:
CustomerInformation.LandRegistration@finance-ni.gov.uk

For mapping queries, email:
Mapping.Helpdesk@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.