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World Food Day: Nutrition Concerns for an Ageing Population
The 16th October each year celebrates World Food Day: an international day that marks the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation that brings Nations together to discuss the urgent issues of food poverty, climate change and providing ways of achieving ambitions of ‘Food for All’ and ‘Water for Life’.
Food security concerns are big headline news for good reason but even where food is in good supply; food can pose daily challenges for many people due to disabilities or life events that cause a loss of appetite, loss of taste and swallowing difficulties that mean for themselves and their carers, daily difficulties around something we all need to survive.
In Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of Dementia, we may often hear of people who have seemingly lost their appetite, but the problem may be far more complex than that and therefore not easily solved. Forgetting how to eat or use utensils, being ‘ used to’ not eating very much, struggling with changing swallow reflexes, loss of taste and smell and not being able to plan and prepare what you fancy may all be part of the problem, and yet a healthy diet we know is good for our physical and mental health. A poor diet and fluid intake, as well as a lack of vitamins and weight loss, can contribute to increased risk of infection, confusion and dehydration exacerbating the symptoms of dementia, resulting in hospital admission and ill health. In the meantime, anxiety increases for the person’s circle of support as the individual may struggle with the concept of someone always trying to give them food or feed them.
Understanding those with Dementia can help us to bring together the strategies that can help. Understanding that a person with Dementia rarely maintains a stable body weight is where we should start, alongside the person’s current likes and dislikes, as well as what works well for them and what doesn’t. Building on a familiar and relaxed environment can help to set the scene. For many people, the dining experience may have become a lonely one – no longer the family all chatting around the table – but an unmotivated task to get through. Creating the dining scenario, with perhaps others to join you, some nice music and strong smells from the kitchen could be the key. It is often said that if you walk past the bakers and you smell fresh bread it makes you feel hungry, and therefore you are tempted to rush in and buy. This is because the smell of good food that someone likes can increase appetite. Perhaps the person feels a sense of loss for no longer providing the food and cooking for the family and yet doing it alone has become impossible.
The challenge with using utensils successfully can, over time, become frustrating and this is what might cause another issue: the embarrassment of trying hard but failing to get the food where it needs to be. This can be solved by offering finger foods such as fish sticks, slices of fruit, slices of quiche, celery or carrot sticks. Adding in additional milkshakes that can be sipped over time rather than food, or adding syrup to porridge, can all help flavour and calories. Being faced with large meals at set times of day when motivation is low may cause disharmony, however, offering small meals regularly or when something is requested may be an approach that prevents anxiety for all.
Complex problems need step by step solutions to find what works for each person but recognition of the potential problem and working towards early solutions. AgeUK has a host of videos and information to provide further guidance and support you might find useful.
So on World Food Day, let us remember not only those for whom food security is a devasting issue but also for those for whom food is a daily challenge.