A person with dementia may not always be able to recognise when they are thirsty, or communicate their thirst. This means it can be difficult for them to drink the recommended eight to 10 glasses or mugs of fluid per day. You could try:
making sure the person always has a drink beside them
offering squash if they dislike water
offering a choice of hot and cold drinks
helping if they are struggling to pick up or hold a cup
offering different shapes and sizes of cup
using a favourite mug, glass or cup, if they have one
Some eating and drinking issues associated with dementia can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Although the problems may be directly related to their dementia, there may be underlying medical issues such as:
mouth pain or dental problems
infections or other physical illnesses
constipation, which can make people feel full and uncomfortable
If you have noticed changes in the person’s appetite, eating or drinking habits, it’s a good idea to book a check-up with their GP or dentist to rule out other causes. Not eating or drinking enough can lead to issues like dehydration, constipation, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and weight loss, which may make their dementia symptoms worse.
If the person has difficulty swallowing, ask your GP for a referral to a Speech and Language Therapist. They can assess the problem and suggest foods that the person can eat more easily.
If they need to eat pureed food, be aware that this can be less nutritious. You could try:
adding skimmed milk powder (from most supermarkets) to food
mixing skimmed milk powder with milkshake powder and full fat milk to create a high nutrient drink. Choose milkshake powders that are fortified with vitamins, and encourage them to drink one pint a day
asking their GP or dietitian about the possibility of prescribing high-nutrient, high-calorie meal supplement drinks
While most younger people are advised to follow a low fat, low sugar diet, older people and those with dementia need more nutrients, protein and calories. Ideally, they should also take a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement (available from pharmacies) every day.
Some people with dementia gain weight. This could be because they forget they have already eaten, don’t recognise when they’re full, or have developed a sweet tooth – a particular issue for people with frontotemporal dementia.
If overeating or weight gain is an issue, you could try:
adding sweet condiments like ketchup or apple sauce to savoury food to satisfy sweet cravings
serving food in portions rather than bringing out the packet or whole dish
replacing high-calorie sweet foods with healthier alternatives such as fruit or low-calorie jelly
encouraging the person to be active, for example by walking, swimming, or doing seated exercises for people with mobility issues
storing food out of immediate sight so they aren’t constantly tempted
For any questions or concerns about eating and drinking with dementia, you can contact our free Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday-Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except 25th December) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.