Dementia patients 'malnourished'

KELSEY FLETCHER
Last updated 12:00 14/02/2014

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People with dementia in Manawatu are probably suffering from malnutrition, according to Alzheimers Manawatu, as an international report calls for a greater focus on making sure patients are fed properly.

The report released this week, Nutrition and dementia: A review of existing research, showed that up to half the people with dementia in care homes had an inadequate food intake.

It also found that 20 to 45 per cent of people in the community with dementia experienced weight loss that could affect their general health.

It made several recommendations, including the adoption of nutritional standards of care.

Alzheimers Manawatu manager Donna Hedley said she was not aware of any rest homes or carers regularly carrying out diet and weight monitoring, or assessments of feeding behaviours, for its residents with dementia.

"It's certainly worth taking on board, because there are measures that can be put in place to monitor weight, and people can be more vigilant about it," she said.

"It would be very easy, because people see their GP every three months and in care people have three-monthly reviews.

"Monitoring the weight of people with dementia is probably very good practice when you consider that they forget to eat, and people in the care industry often talk about their limited resources, so that would be something they could be more aware of."

Ms Hedley said people with dementia often didn't know if they were hungry, which was where education on nutrition became key.

"We often get referrals where people are struggling to get adequate food and fluids into people with dementia, particularly when they are in an advanced stage," she said. "Sometimes they will say they are not hungry but what they don't understand is the fact that, with dementia, breakdowns with the messages in the brain means they no longer recognise the feeling of hunger."

Alzheimers NZ expects the number of people with dementia to triple to 150,000 by 2050.

The report's recommendations include the adoption of nutritional standards of care, training and support for family and professional carers, more information for consumers about the risks and benefits of using supplements, and more research into the components of a diet that could prevent dementia and the progression of mild cognitive impairment.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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