Preventing malnutrition in later life

Understanding good nutritional and hydrational care for people with dementia

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This week is Dementia Awareness Week, designed to raise awareness of the condition and get people talking. In this blog, Dr Jane Murphy, Associate Professor at Bournemouth University and registered nutritionist and dietitian, talks about important new tools she and her colleagues have developed to help care staff provide excellent nutritional and hydrational care to those with dementia. 

Over 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, many of whom struggle with eating and drinking.

As dementia progresses, eating and drinking difficulties are a major factor contributing to poor health, frailty and reduced quality of life.  By the time someone with dementia moves into a care home, they may be already experiencing significant weight loss and other nutrition-related problems.

This can trigger further physical and mental deterioration, which means that supporting people living with dementia to eat and drink well should be a real priority for care staff.  We recognised that there was a real need for research in this area and that there were no standardised approaches or training programmes to provide staff with information about good nutrition.  Thanks to funding from the Burdett Trust for Nursing, we have been able to explore this area in more detail and create tools to support staff to provide excellent nutritional care.

Cover of Bournemouth's dementia workbookWe worked together with local care homes, charities and the Borough of Poole Council to explore the issue and have now developed a workbook (right) and DVD packed full of ideas for staff to try out.  It’s been a great experience to work in partnership with all these organisations as we’ve been able to gather different perspectives and ideas.  It’s helped us to create a much richer resource than we could have produced on our own.

The training workbook and DVD help to explain the importance of good nutrition and provide staff with lots of practical tips and ideas to try out.  These include:

  • Keeping people interested in food by getting them involved in food preparation activities, including growing their own fruit and vegetables
  • Eating meals together with carers, which allows people to copy actions if they’re struggling to remember how to eat
  • Jogging people’s memories by providing people a visual choice between foods instead of a written menu
  • Adapting the physical environment to make it more appealing and thinking about the colours, smells and lighting used at meal times

The ideas included are based on examples of best practice gathered by the research team and have already been tried out in a number of local care homes with great success.

This resource is being used by a number of busy health and care professionals nationally and internationally and has already helped people with dementia to be supported to eat and drink well, especially in the latter stages of this debilitating condition.  In future, we hope to see it embedded into the policies and practices of care providers across the country.

The training video is free to view here and copies of the workbook (which includes a DVD of the video) can be requested by emailing the research team. Don’t forget also to visit the project website.

For more information about the tools and our project you can email me at jmurphy@bournemouth.ac.uk or Michelle O’Brien at the Bournemouth University Dementia Institute on mobrien@bournemouth.ac.uk.

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