Sunday 17 May 2015

Do something new... with mealtimes

Welcome to the first of my seven blog posts for UK Dementia Awareness Week 2015.

This year's Dementia Awareness Week centres around the theme of doing something new for people with dementia, under the mantra that ‘Life doesn’t have to end when dementia begins’. For many people living with dementia in care homes, however, a lack of opportunities to have meaningful occupation and activity, or even just enjoy the simple pleasures that many of us take for granted, can lead to life feeling like it really has ended.

Over this Dementia Awareness Week (DAW2015) I want to look at some of the positive things relatives and staff can do to enhance the lived experience of people with dementia in care homes. They may be new things, or they may be old favourites, but they all share in the ability to turn a boring day into something a little bit more special.
Day 1: Food and drink

We all have to eat, and yet in care homes mealtimes, and indeed tea and coffee breaks, often become very transactional. The people who live in the care home are seated, the food arrives, the food is served, people eat, or are helped to eat, and two courses later everything is cleared away. It’s not always the most appetising process as stale smells linger in the air, nor does it promote eating as a really positive experience, but it is possible to turn that transactional approach on its head.

Some care homes actively encourage their care staff to eat with their residents. This promotes inclusivity, enables a supportive watch and learn approach for people with dementia who are perhaps struggling to remember how to use cutlery or eat a meal, and is an added perk for hard-working and dedicated care staff. Equally, why not encourage relatives to join in mealtimes – some of our happiest times with my dad were spend sharing a meal together at his care home. Think also about anything residents could do to participate in the mealtime experience - helping to lay the table, serve food or clear away. Some people may enjoy helping and feel it gives them an added purpose in life.

Mealtimes and break times don’t always have to be in the dining room either. For some individuals with dementia routine is vital and you wouldn’t want to upset that, but for other people a picnic in the garden, or an afternoon cream tea on the terrace makes a really refreshing change that stimulates appetites and makes eating an enjoyable social event. All it takes is a bit of creativity and planning on the part of the staff team, and some enthusiasm/participation from relatives always helps too.

Finally, think about your menus. For some people tried-and-tested favourite meals are really important, but another individual whose appetite is flagging and weight is dropping away may need their diet to be invigorated with new tastes (and possibly stronger tastes if their taste buds aren't responding too well), different styles, presentations or consistency (thinking here particularly about pureed food for people with a swallowing problem). Time of day is also important. Not everyone wants to eat when the routines of the care home dictate they should eat, so be mindful of individual preferences and ensure they are catered for.

More information, tips and advice on food and drink, eating and dining techniques can be found in the following D4Dementia blog posts:

Food for thought:

The digestive balance:

Hydrated and happy:

Hard to swallow:

Next post on 18 May 2015.
Until then...

Beth x

You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886


  1. I so agree with you Beth, about the importance of mealtimes: the quality of the food and of the interaction with other people. My husband needed help to eat and sadly his food was often cold by the time someone was available. Occasionally I would time my daily visit to be there for a meal, but as this was one of the few opportunities in the day for him to interact with other people, I thought it was more useful to break up the long, often solitary, afternoons. I bought an espresso coffee machine (that used pods so no mess!) for his room and we'd enjoy a coffee together. A good coffee was a big quality of life issue for him.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences Zoe. I love the espresso machine idea! Hopefully it may inspire other families. All the best, Beth

  2. Thanks Beth for the call to action to support inclusive mealtimes!

    1. Thanks for your support Tanya. Is this part of day-to-day life in Anchor care homes?