Dementia affects around 850, 000 people across the UK. One in 14 people aged 65 and over live with the illness, and many more who carers are also affected.

What is Dementia Awareness Week?

It is a common misconception that dementia purely impacts memory loss where, in reality, concentration, planning and thought processes can also be difficult for those with dementia.

With so little understood about the intricacies and implications of dementia, The UK Alzheimer’s Society launched its initiative Dementia Awareness Week which takes place between 14-20 May. The idea is to raise awareness and encourage everybody to come together and offer help.

In the past there has been a stigma attached to dementia where people living with it feel ashamed and embarrassed but by devoting time and effort into events like Dementia Awareness Week this can be overcome. Getting people talking about dementia will make it more likely they’ll seek that all-important initial diagnosis.

What can you do to help?

 As a strong believer in the contribution good nutrition makes to a whole care approach, Kerrymaid has compiled some advice for helping to care for dementia specific to our area of expertise; food. There are a number of considerations which are often overlooked when preparing food for those with dementia.

One of the main things is ensuring you have a comprehensive knowledge of what the person likes. Often, eating is not at the forefront of their mind and they need to be reminded to eat. With that in mind, ensuring the food on offer is something that will really appeal to them help encourage positive eating. In keeping with this, it is good practice to serve food on a plate with a colour band on it – this will help the person better understand where the plate ends and the table begins.

It is equally important to tune into all the senses when serving food to a person with dementia. Surround them with smells of strong coffee, of freshly baked cakes and food filled with herbs to stimulate appetite. Making food attractive is equally important, if the smell and look of a dish is appealing, it will encourage positive eating habits and greater enthusiasm to eat.

There is a lot written about dementia and the correlation with food, but it is important to focus on ensuring at least one substantial, main meal a day is provided. Often older people feel better during the day so lunch is vital. It is also true that routine is imperative with people who have dementia. A plan for the day makes things more manageable so consistency at mealtimes plays a big part in this.

Of course, this is general advice and portion sizes should always be catered to an individual. There will be certain cases where an individual may feel uncomfortable about their eating and in these cases, be cautious. Provide smaller portions – sometimes even finger food – the person can always ask for more if they want it and are not made to feel overwhelmed by what’s being served to them.

How can Kerrymaid help?

 We have a great deal of experience in providing the care home sector with ingredients, recipes and ideas that ensure the food they offer is relevant, enjoyable and innovative. Part of the work we have done with care homes has been actively supporting care for residents with dementia.

This included teaming up last year with a local dementia café where we hosted an afternoon tea to support the families of those living with the illness.

We teamed up with NACC Care Cook of the Year 2015 finalist and Kerrymaid Care Ambassador, Matt Dodge, to offer an afternoon tea bursting with flavour and perfectly suited to people with dementia. This menu was developed specifically for the event and we incorporated a number of Kerrymaid products into the recipes to add substance, taste and consistency.

This included everything from finger sandwiches to colourful macaroons, mini fresh fruit tarts and chocolate flapjacks. We dressed each table with pale tablecloths and contrasting napkins with meals served on lightly coloured plates – pale green, yellow and pink work especially well with dementia.

Adult colouring and 1940’s and 50’s sing-a-long were just two of the activities we targeted for this event both of which proved particularly popular.

One of the biggest problems for the elderly living with dementia is the need to combat weight loss. It is important to regularly monitor a resident or loved one, paying special attention to how much they weigh.  Kerrymaid products like the cream alternatives are helpful for fortifying meals to add additional calories and combat weight loss. Cream is a fantastic ingredient for this and can be incorporated in a number of different dishes.

What do the experts say?

We’ve  gathered the thoughts and opinions from a number of experts within the industry, each of whom have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw on when offering advice on catering for people with dementia.

Matt Dodge, NACC Care Cook of the Year 2015 finalist and Kerrymaid Care Ambassador, says:

“Don’t overwhelm a person by packing a plate-load of food. If they want more, they can always request it but you only put up a barrier to eating by filling a plate beyond what they feel they can stomach. Having a cooking station within the dementia suite where residents can see the chef cooking or smell whatever it is preparing will encourage them to eat. This kind of emersion in food and cooking is a great appetite stimulant”

“Serving balanced meals that match a person’s individual needs is crucial, paying particular attention to likes, dislikes, allergies, intolerances and any potential need for calorie fortification.”

John Portman, Coordinator of Rochester Dementia Memory Café and local rep of Alzheimer’s Society in Medway, says:

“The key consideration is finding out what food they like. It is all very well to simply give somebody more fruit because it is good for them but, if the person doesn’t like eating fruit, then what’s the point? Something being regarded as the best food for someone with dementia is only good for dementia if that person will actually eat it.”

“Hydration, like food, is about routine. If you put a jug of water in front of a person there is no guarantee it will be drunk. Individual’s with dementia need to be reminded to drink and establishing a routine around drinking contributes to that.”

Rosemary Connolly, Dementia Support Worker for the Alzheimer’s Society, says;

“It is worth noting that an individual might not always might not always be able to communicate their likes or dislikes so knowing something about them such as religious beliefs, what they are known to eat or whether they have difficulty swallowing can be a huge advantage when catering for them.”

Denise Barrett, Day Centre Manager in Capstone, Age UK in Meday, says:

“Brigher coloured foods such as carrots, rather than beige chicken casseroles with cauliflower are popular with those who have dementia. That said, protein foods are extremely helpful with skin conditions and ulcers, so we encourage a lot of protein based foods.”