‘Nutrition and Dementia: a review of available research’ calls for stakeholders around the world to recognize nutrition as an important factor for the well-being of people with dementia, finding that 20-45% of those with dementia experience clinically significant weight loss over one year.
Commissioned by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) and Compass Group, the report reviews dietary factors across the life course that might increase or decrease the risk of onset of dementia in later life. It also details what actions could be taken to improve the nutrition of people with dementia both through diet and external factors, such as modifying the mealtime environment and supporting and training carers.
The report recommends that nutritional standards need to be adopted throughout the health and social care sector, and that more research needs to be conducted into the effective components of diets that might prevent dementia and the progression of mild cognitive impairment.
It also highlights that evidence-based advice should be provided to inform consumer choices regarding the balance of risks and benefits associated with the use of nutritional supplements claimed to protect cognition in late life, before or after the onset of dementia.
The report also suggests that the problem of under-nutrition has been grossly neglected so far both in research and practice. Professor Prince, from King’s College London, comments, “While weight loss in dementia is very common and can be an intrinsic part of the disease, it is avoidable and we should be doing much more to tackle the problem.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, says: ‘Malnutrition in many older people in the community, care homes and in hospitals is often left undetected.
‘Health professionals and those in social care need to get better at spotting the signs and then making sure that a suitable care plan is put in place to ensure those at risk of malnutrition do not slip through the gaps between services and get consistent treatment and support.
‘It is also important that older people, along with their friends, family and health care professionals challenge assumptions around malnutrition and don’t ignore the problem. For example, people shouldn’t assume that losing weight is automatically part of ageing. Equally, if people are struggling to cook meals or start to lose their appetite they should consider whether they need extra support or potentially medical advice.’
Care minister Norman Lamb said failings that may lead to people being malnourished or dehydrated were ‘entirely unacceptable’.
‘The law requires that care homes must ensure residents receive enough to eat and drink and we expect the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to take swift action when this is not the case,’ he said.
‘We want everyone to get better care, which is why the CQC are bringing in new rules so that it can crack down on poor care more effectively and why we’re taking action so that company directors will be personally responsible for the quality of care their organisation provides.’