Weight loss in dementia patients is unfortunately not a commonly addressed topic. Given that dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australians, there must be greater awareness and support for those afflicted. Good nutrition is essential to health and can positively contribute to the patient's clinical prognosis. If successfully achieved, the patient may have a less arduous journey down the path in living with dementia.
In treating the dementia patient, not only are there mental changes but also physiological changes.
Dementia may cause the individual to forget to eat at mealtimes and present in ways of a short attention span and increased agitation.
In those who experience pacing, increased nutrient needs will need to be taken into account secondary to increased physical activity. The physiological effects from ageing also may negatively contribute to the patient's well being. These effects include decreased hunger and thirst sensation, swallowing function, and the ability to feed oneself.
A nutrition plan of care may address inadequate nutrient intake through the provision of fortified foods aligned with the patient's personal food preferences. A variety of meals, drinks and snacks may also be regularly encouraged. In some advanced cases, supplementation or even an artificial tube feeding may be considered.
Despite all the potential interventions we may use, the patient's quality of life and dignity must be prioritised. Food represents much more than our body's fuel. For many individuals, it brings back beloved memories with family and friends and is a key component in social gatherings. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The multidisciplinary team and the patient's family and friends must be engaged on all fronts to ensure the patient is nourished and happy.