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Helping someone with dementia with eating and drinking

George’s dementia affected his eating habits in lots of ways. From what he ate to how and when he ate. At lunch-time I was used to putting a variety of things on the table, but this would confuse George so I started to keep food on the kitchen counter and only put our plates on the table and perhaps a dish of vegetables if it was a main meal.

I couldn’t ask George what he wanted to eat as giving him choices would confuse him. At lunch time I would hold up the cheese and perhaps a packet of ham or tin of tuna and ask him which he wanted so he could SEE what I was offering him and point to what he wanted. It was a limited choice but at least he had some choice – any more than 2 options and he couldn’t cope.

Having never had a sweet tooth, George’s dementia changed that. Initially he could remember where the biscuit tin was and would regularly disappear in the cupboard to help himself. I tried not to have any sweets or biscuits on show, but kept a fruit bowl to hand, so he was more likely to eat an apple or banana. But as his dementia got worse, so did his appetite and if he wasn’t prompted, he wouldn’t eat at all.

I had to give him small portions of food and offer him food more often. Everything had to be in separate piles on his plate. I also found cutting his food up so it was easy to eat helped.  Drinking was a big concern. I couldn’t leave a drink in front of him and assume he would drink it. I had to regularly offer drinks and then make sure he would drink them. It helped if someone was sitting drinking with him. To get calories into him, I would make him milky coffee and found that he would have a mug of Horlicks at bed time - not something he would have chosen before

George used to enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, but he was not allowed alcohol because of his medication. I found some non-alcoholic lager that he liked and so he still felt included if I had a glass of wine.

George was in hospital for a time and hardly eating was a big concern. He was not keen on the hospital food, so when we visited in the afternoon we would take him along to the canteen and try to tempt him. He would sometimes eat a yoghurt, and would usually drink a latte. On one occasion we managed to get him to have a few chips, as we walked down the counter he looked at the puddings and said, ‘I can’t have custard on them can I’? Although we wanted him to eat, chips and custard wasn’t really an option!