Why people with dementia need to drink up

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Eating and drinking are essential for life, and a source of great pleasure for most of us. People who have dementia may begin to have difficulty in shopping and cooking food by themselves and when that happens their diet can suffer.

As time goes by their dementia might mean they have difficulty in recognizing and enjoying food, and so they will require help to make sure they have a good diet. There are practical things that can be done to make it more likely that people with dementia will continue to enjoy their food for as long as possible and get the benefit of a good diet and fluids.

The benefit of a good diet and fluids

There is a current fad for a slimming diet that involves eating only a small amount of calories for a whole day, twice a week. Even if you take a normal diet on the other five days you will lose weight. If a person with dementia only misses eating properly on two days in the week, it is as if they are on this slimming regime. It is no surprise that under these circumstances they will lose weight at a time in life when that is not desirable for most people.

From a practical point of view, you sometimes need to work out how to help the person get enough to eat. But if the person does not drink enough, that can cause a more urgent problem.

Not having enough to drink can cause rapid deterioration in a person with dementia much more quickly than a younger fitter person

Not having enough to drink can cause rapid deterioration in a person with dementia much more quickly than a younger fitter person. The brain ceases to work well in anyone who is dehydrated at any age. Children in schools in the past were never offered fluids during classes but it is recognized now that they learn better if they have open access to drinking water. For someone with dementia who is already struggling with their thinking, not having enough to drink can quickly make them more confused.

So, what should people drink?

What should people drink? In general anything is better than nothing; but of course water is very good. For younger people water is best, but for older people in particular if their appetite is poor, you have to be sure that you are not filling them up with so much water that they can’t eat enough.

Make sure in those cases that they are drinking things that offer calories and vitamins, for example a milk shake, or fresh fruit juice. Tea and coffee with caffeine in them might be limited towards the end of the day if you want to reduce nocturnal wandering, but they are great first thing in the morning when people wake up. If the person has blood pressure problems then they may have to have decaffeinated drinks.

The amount of fluid needed depends on what you are doing and how hot the environment is. Hospitals can get very hot, even if you are sitting still all the time. Alcohol can be nice, but you need to be sure that it is not interfering with medication, so get approval first from the doctor and remember that the smaller and older you are, the less you can tolerate alcohol. Used in excess it also causes dehydration.

There is more about this in my book 'Dementia:The One-Stop Guide'