Patients with dementia who engage in group mealtimes experience better health and quality of life, according to a new study by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
The findings show that a holistic approach to dinner, including eating family-style meals with care givers, playing music, and engaging with multisensory exercise help boost nutrition, hydration and happiness among people with dementia.
“The risk of dehydration and malnutrition are high in older people, but even higher in those with dementia,” said lead researcher Dr. Lee Hooper from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.
“Malnutrition is associated with poor quality of life so understanding how to help people eat and drink well is very important in supporting health and quality of life for people with dementia. We wanted to find out what families or carers can do to help people with dementia eat well and drink enough.”
For the study, the researchers systematically reviewed research from around the world and evaluated the effectiveness of 56 interventions which all aimed to improve, maintain, or facilitate food or drink intake among more than 2,200 people with dementia.
They found that while no interventions were overwhelmingly successful, the most promising approaches focused on a holistic approach to mealtimes.
Interventions tested included changing the color of the plate, increasing exercise, waitress service, playing different types of music, singing, doing tai-chi, creating a home-like eating environment, providing nutrition supplements, and boosting the social aspect of eating.
The research team also looked at whether better education and training for formal or informal care-givers could help, as well as behavioral interventions — such as giving encouragement for eating.
The researchers assessed whether these interventions improved hydration status and body weight, and whether the intervention helped older people to enjoy the experience of eating or drinking, and improved their quality of life.
“We found a number of promising interventions — including eating meals with caregivers, having family-style meals, facilitating social interaction during meals, longer mealtimes, playing soothing mealtime music, doing multi sensory exercise, and providing constantly accessible snacks,” said Hooper.
“Providing education and support for formal and informal caregivers were also promising. But one of the problems of this research is that many of the studies we looked at were too small to draw any firm conclusions — so no interventions should be clearly ruled in or out and more research in this area is needed.
“It is probably not just what people with dementia eat and drink that is important for their nutritional well-being and quality of life — but a holistic mix of where they eat and drink, the atmosphere, physical and social support offered, the understanding of formal care-givers, and levels of physical activity enjoyed.”