What is Dementia?
Dementia is a common term used to describe many illnesses that result in progressive decline of a person’s memory, functioning, intellect, social and emotional skills. The most common types of dementia
include Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia. Other less common types are dementia with Lewy Bodies, Fronto-Temporal Lobar Degeneration and Korsakoff’s Syndrome (alcohol related dementia).
Nutrition is important for residents with all forms of dementia. Working in an aged care facility, you will know that maintaining a resident’s nutrition and preventing weight loss can be challenging. For residents with dementia this can be even harder. People with dementia may lose weight because of a number of reasons: they may forget whether they have eaten or they may no longer be able to recognise some foods, or food at all. Additionally residents may have difficulty using cutlery, chewing or swallowing, become easily distracted often leaving the table prior to completing meals or they may be unable to verbalise their food preferences or hunger levels. Some people with dementia may experience a combination of these symptoms, making it very difficult for them to maintain adequate nutrition.
These are all daily issues faced in aged care facilities. For most nutrition issues related to dementia there is no one magic solution; instead a trial and error approach, in consultation with an Accredited Practising Dietitian, is best.
What are finger foods?
As the name suggests, finger foods can be eaten easily, without the need for cutlery. They are foods that hold their form when picked up and require limited chewing. Suitable finger foods would include: a
small sandwich, cubes of tasty cheese, meat balls, fruit platers – bite size pieces or small fruit muffins. Ideally finger foods in a dementia menu are not just party pies, sausage rolls and other common party
foods, as these lack adequate nutrition and can contribute to a nutritionally inadequate menu. In general, while finger foods can be included in anyone’s diet, they tend to be most useful for residents with middle to late stages of dementia, as this is when they are most likely no longer able to cope independently with a normal meal.
Why are finger foods important for people with dementia?
• Can be ‘eaten on the run’
Useful for those residents who wander and won’t stay sitting at dining table long enough to complete a meal
• Does not require the use of cutlery
Better for residents with poor fine motor skills
With assistance of a dietitian an entire menu can be developed using finger foods
• Residents able to maintain independence and dignity
Residents who cannot use cutlery effectively if not given finger foods will require full feeding assistance
• Can save time
Getting residents (who wander) to‘eat on the run’will save staff time required in re-directing to the task of eating at the dining table and will minimise the number of full feeds required
• Can stimulate a resident’s appetite if presented in an attractive manner
However, when implementing finger foods to a menu, the food safety issue of choking needs to be considered. Remove seeds,skins, bone, etc, ensure residents requiring a soft diet are not provided with
bite size pieces that are not considered soft and continue to provide adequate supervision of residents having finger foods.
If your facility hasn’t been using finger foods, a good place to start is with mid–meal snacks. For facilities with dementia specific units it is ideal if there can always be some simple finger foods available to offer
as meal alternatives if required. It is worth remembering, that just like a small child learning to eat, residents with dementia may need to be offered the same food on several occasions before they accept
it; the same can be said for residents changing to finger foods.
Tip: If a resident is going to be eating with their fingers, make sure their hands are cleaned regularly to avoid contamination of foods and gastric upset
For more information or assistance with providing the best nutrition for your residents living with dementia, please contact us below or on 1300 712 722.