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4.3 Eating Well

Your diet has an impact on energy levels and mood

Eating well is important as diet has a big impact on brain health, energy levels, and mood for you and the person you are caring for.  

As a care partner, your life is busy! It can be challenging to plan, shop for, and prepare nutritious, healthy meals. Dementia can bring additional challenges to meal preparation. Some people with dementia are known to have sensory changes of taste and smell which may reduce their appetite and people with frontotemporal dementia often develop a hankering for sweet things. 

Others may find their sense of smell and taste have become dull and want to eat spicy or highly flavoured food or alternately show little interest in food. Some medications can also dull the sense of taste. The presentation of food can be important to encourage people to eat. 

Talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner if you have any concerns about your diet, appetite, or weight. They may refer you to a dietician or nutritionist for additional recommendations.  

Eating a healthy diet 

Maintaining good nutrition can feel like an added challenge! Some tips to help you include: 

  • If shopping is difficult, consider using online shopping with home delivery. This is offered by the larger supermarkets, but many shops in small towns will offer this service, or 
  • Make shopping a social activity and go with a friend or neighbour. 
  • Supermarkets often sell pre-prepared vegetables for salads, soups, and stews. This can cut down on preparation time.  
  • Cook in bulk. When you cook, make double quantities and freeze portions for later.  
  • Ask others to help. Often family members or neighbours are happy to cook extra for your freezer.  
  • Keep nutritious snacks like nuts, unsweetened yogurt, and fresh fruit on hand.  

Research indicates that a Mediterranean diet might help lower the risk of dementia, but there is no proof this diet helps people who already have dementia. A Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables and fruits, legumes and nuts, wholegrains, fish and seafood and olive oil, as well as some dairy. The Mediterranean diet has less sugar, red meats and processed foods. You don’t need to cook Mediterranean recipes, just eat foods commonly found in Mediterranean diets, and avoid foods not in the diet. It is a healthy diet, colourful, tasty, and rich in nutrients. 

If you are at all concerned about your nutrition – or the nutrition of the person you care for, ask your family doctor or nurse practitioner to check levels of key vitamins and various blood markers for nutrition. If required, they can refer you to a dietitian for specific advice.   

Additional issues that may affect eating, include poor teeth or gums, so be sure to have regular dental check-ups. Also, many medications cause dry mouth so talk with your pharmacist about alternatives if this is becoming a problem.  

Drink less alcohol

Drinking alcohol, especially heavy drinking may accelerate deterioration in people with dementia. Heavy drinking is defined as more than 7 standard drinks a week for women, or more than 14 drinks a week for men. Heavy drinking may also increase the risk of getting dementia. Consider trying non-or low-alcoholic beverages or substituting juices like cranberry juice instead of wine. A dietitian can help provide advice for your situation.  

Drink more water

It’s easy to forget to drink, and the ability to sense thirst decreases with age. Research suggests that peoples’ ability to think clearly decreases when they are dehydrated. Stay hydrated by drinking sufficient water every day and drink more water on hot days.  Make it part of your routine to have a glass of water with every meal, and in between meals too. To prompt drinking more water, some people fill a jug each morning and leave on the kitchen table  to remind them to drink water during the day. Water is the healthiest choice, but non caffeinated tea, milk, juice, and soup also help you stay hydrated. 

Eat well and drink more water

  • Try to limit processed foods. Choose fresh food when you can.  
  • Drink a glass of water with every meal or snack that you have. Use eating as a reminder for drinking water. You can also set a pitcher of water on the counter to remind you to have a glass of water.