Definition of Food and Drink – Dementia

As with most daily tasks, eating and drinking can be greatly affected by dementia. When cognitivemotorsensory or behavioural changes occur a host of challenges may arise. By understanding how these changes can undermine processes we can help you to make things easier.

Cognitive abilities

A decline in mental function can bring difficulties with recognition and concentration. Problems can arise in being able to see objects as food or drinks. Plates of food or drinks in cups and mugs will be ignored. They won’t be recognised for what they are.

A decline in concentration can mean that a plate of food or a drink will be started, but soon left alone. It is easy to assume that because someone has started eating they have made the choice to stop. They may well be fatigued or have been distracted.

Consequently mealtimes can end before they should, resulting in not enough food or drink being consumed.

Swallowing abilities

Eating and drinking requires good motorcognitive and sensory abilities to transport food and drink to the mouth, process it and swallow it when it gets there. Any decline can severely affect the ability to get the nutrition required. Furthermore, where swallowing is affected, the process can become unsafe.

Many of these issues are covered in the section on Difficulties Swallowing. Medically, this is known as dysphagia. As a result of dysphagia, strategies must be employed to improve safety and ensure good nutrition and hydration.

Sensory abilities

We take our senses for granted, they have been built in to help us in our daily lives. If we lose the ability to sense hunger or thirst it will clearly affect good eating habits. The loss of other senses brings challenges too. The senses of smell and taste can be impaired, reducing the enjoyment and motivation to eat and drink. A reduced ability to sense temperature can cause serious injury and affect eating and drinking for some time.

When we lose our sensations we need to find strategies that will allow us to continue as normal a life as possible.


Dementia can affect the choices someone makes or the actions they take. A vegetarian might start to eat meat as a result of behavioural changes. It could be that personal, cultural or religious choices are affected. It is best to use your knowledge of their wishes to help them make decisions.

Communication difficulties can also affect behaviour. Behaviour can be affected by:

  • Their environment
  • The people they are with
  • The food they are eating
  • The speed they feel they are eating at

All of these challenges can lead to problems at mealtimes. Follow our links for recipes, hints and tips that can help you make a difference.

Definition of Food and Drink – Dementia | OHK

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