The importance of Nutrition in Later Life

How specialist knowledge enables our Exeter & East Devon team to provide CQC Outstanding care

It’s fair to say that raising community awareness around later life wellbeing, is at the heart of our Company.

As Dementia specialists, we place real importance on training for our teams, and invest in this to a great extent, so that colleagues can feel equipped to support in the best way possible, and so our clients can benefit from that expertise. Our recent Dementia Bus expertise was one invaluable example.

There are a staggering 944,000 people estimated to be living with dementia in the UK and this is expected to rise way beyond 1 million by 2030, with the cost of dementia currently sitting at an estimated £25bn.*

Nutrition is vital in later life, supporting health across a range of areas. For those living with dementia, the challenges increase.

We have found there to be a vast range of reasons why a person in later life may find themselves at risk of poor nutrition, and beyond this, malnourishment. It may be that a person lacks the skills or knowledge in order to create a balanced diet, perhaps they are widowed and the person that usually led mealtimes is no longer there. With bereavement, comes grief, and low mood or poor mental wellbeing are known to negatively affect appetite. Financial pressures can lead to less-than-ideal diets, as fast foods and ready meals present themselves as cheap and easy alternatives to cooking but can often include high rates of salt and saturated fats. Poor mobility or diminishing eyesight can pose challenges with regard to not only shopping for food, but also the preparation of it, and there are a myriad of conditions that can affect dexterity in later life, such as arthritis or neuropathy. We know that loneliness plays a huge part in a reluctance to prepare meals, and we find that our Care Professionals can be key to creating a scenario where food becomes a point of social connection once again.

Those living with dementia can experience all of the obstacles mentioned, and more. Confusion, poor appetite and as the disease and symptoms progress, eating and swallowing can become increasingly difficult.

In later life, it’s vital to eat a diet that’s both enjoyable and varied, which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, ‘healthier’ fats, some oily fish, plenty of fibre and to also keep well hydrated.

For example, swapping cream for plain yogurt, whole milk for semi-skimmed, fried for grilled foods, and regular mince for lean or extra lean, are quick and easy ‘wins’ in a quest to improve nutrition.

Oily fish provide a wonderful range of vitamins and minerals, and herring, mackerel and salmon are particularly rich in valuable omega-3 fats, which can help to protect against heart disease. Research also suggest that they may reduce symptoms of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Moderation is key with oily fish, just as it is with many food groups, (because it can contain contaminants and in the case of larger fish such as swordfish, high levels of mercury), so eating no more than four portions of oily fish each week is the advised limit.

Fibre is of real importance in later life, aiding digestive health and decreasing the risk of constipation, which can be both uncomfortable and have far reaching health consequences. Reduced mobility, lower energy levels and conditions such as bowel incontinence are all possible for those experiencing long-term constipation.

Medications can also have an impact on appetite and digestion, so it’s good practice to speak to your GP and investigate changes in appetite or digestive health, and to request regular Medication Reviews, to ensure that treatments are working well in conjunction with one another.

The preparation of meals and physical process of cooking exercises not only dextrous and creative skills when chopping, peeling and presenting food, but also cognitive activity, for example if a recipe is being followed. The social aspect of enjoying food together, is ingrained in our culture, and it’s one of the reasons why our Care Professionals will stop, take a moment and create a ‘mealtime’ for many clients, even if that is just them sitting with them at the table, enjoying a cup of tea whilst their client tucks into their supper.

In the case of our popular Live-In Care support, the value of mealtimes and ability to truly tailor make meals is at an optimum. Our Live-In Care Professionals will often find a shared interest in food with a client, and have the time to create a ‘menu’ that clients will enjoy, often revisiting recipes from the past, and in some cases encouraging a return to long lost hobbies such as baking. It offers a chance for positive reminiscence and can provide real comfort.

Lastly, hydration is hugely important. In later life, this very often not at the level required to support good health. This can be complicated by reduced sensations, which means that a lack of thirst does not necessarily indicate a good level of hydration. This risk is heightened in those with diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The Boston Red Plate Study, conducted by Boston University biopsychologist Alice Cronin-Golomb and her research partners, discovered an amazing relationship between colour and appetite. For those living with Alzheimer’s disease, food and drink served on red crockery created a 25 percent increase in food consumption, and an astonishing 84 percent more fluid. Further investigations indicated that in those living with vascular dementia, blue was the positive trigger colour. Those figures can literally mean the difference between healthly levels of nourishment and hydration, or a need for hospitalisation.

It’s specialist knowledge that creates the best chance of positive outcomes for our clients, and is one reason why for our team, we will continue to train our Care Professionals to an exceptional standard, enabling our clients to live independent lives, well, for longer.

If you would like to know more about our officially CQC Outstanding home care services – including Live-In Care – please contact our dedicated home care consultants on 01395 200600 or email [email protected]

*Homecare Association Magazine, December 2023