According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, a figure that is set to rise to 1 million by 2025*. 

To mark Dementia Awareness Week (18th – 24th May 2015), Dine Contract Catering Nutritionist, Roz Witney, shares her advice for catering for residents with this complex condition.  

"Good nutritional intake is a major contribution to maintaining health and wellbeing for residents with dementia, especially as under-nutrition can exacerbate dementia.  However, as a loss of taste and smell, coupled with a general apathy for food, often goes hand in hand with dementia, it can be very difficult for carers to encourage residents to eat in the first place.

“With this in mind, here are my top tips on how to help residents with dementia get the nutrition they need to remain as healthy as possible …

1. Embrace snack times

Limiting eating occasions to a pattern of set mealtimes at breakfast, lunch and dinner isn’t appropriate for dementia sufferers, who often need to eat at more regular intervals. 

Offering snacks in between meals will help maintain a steady intake of energy and accommodate for fluctuations in appetite throughout the day, as low blood sugar levels can intensify the condition (as this often means less glucose reaches the brain). 


2. Make the most of desserts

This is often the most popular course for those with dementia, so it’s a good chance to help them take on vitamins and minerals that may be missing from their diet.  Try serving options that have been fortified with additional nutrients.

For example, a sticky toffee pudding made with wholemeal flour and dates, served with custard, not only provides vital nutrients, but also fibre to keep bowels healthy plus iron for immune and cognitive function as well as an array of micronutrients to protect against further neurodegeneration. 


3. Include smoother options 

Milkshakes, smoothies and soups can prove more appealing for those with smaller appetites and can be fortified easily. 

For instance, blending a banana with yoghurt, as well as whole milk, ground almonds and a small scoop of ice cream provides around 400 calories, as well as essential fatty acids, protein, calcium, folate and fibre.

Quinoa (a supernutritional seed that looks and tastes like a soft rice grain) has a perfect protein profile and is very easily metabolised, making it an ideal addition to soups. 


4. Use visual aids 

Giving residents with dementia a picture menu rather than asking them to recognise meals from a written description will go a long way in improving nutrition. Presenting them with appetising pictures of nicely presented dishes is a useful way to encourage them to eat.


5. Consider coconut oil

Among the latest theories as to the causes of dementia has described Alzheimer’s (the most common form of the condition) as ‘diabetes of the brain’ and researchers are currently looking at the influence of a certain type of fat (medium chain triglycerides) that can act as fuel for brain cells in the absence of glucose. 

Coconut oil is a rich source of this kind of fat and makes an excellent alternative to cooking oil as it is stable at high temperatures.  Plus, we’ve found that its great taste makes it an ideal replacement to butter or margarine when making cakes or biscuits.

* Alzheimer’s Society: