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Annual Review 2015

Dignity in dementia

Improving nutrition in care homes.

The Research

Over 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia; a number which is expected to rise as our population ages. For care home staff and nurses, providing dignity in care is extremely important, but faced with increasing demands and people with complex conditions, it can be difficult to put into practice. Researchers from Bournemouth University have highlighted the difficulties health and care staff face and have developed training tools to support them.

The research revealed that people with dementia living in care homes often do not receive enough food to meet their daily living needs, meaning that of those in the study, 40% were classified as underweight. 

Results found that fluid intake varied between 372ml and 2,025ml per day, with many people not meeting their recommended daily allowance of 1,500ml. Drinking enough is often a problem for people with dementia, because as the condition progresses, people are less able to realise they are thirsty.

People’s physical activity was measured using monitoring armbands and showed many participants were leading very sedentary lifestyles. This may be one of the reasons their appetites decreased, but also had knock-on effects for sleep patterns and general wellbeing.

The team are now working to develop training resources and tools for care home staff, which will support them to ensure people with dementia receive high-quality nutrition and hydration.

The Academic

Dr Jane Murphy

Making sure that people with dementia receive appropriate food and nutrition is a vital part of delivering dignity in care. Eating and drinking become increasingly difficult as dementia progresses, and there is a real risk of people developing malnutrition or experiencing extreme weight loss.

Our research is designed to equip frontline staff with the skills and knowledge they need to improve nutrition in people with dementia, whether they are living in care homes or in their own homes. The generous support of the Burdett Trust has enabled us to work with staff in local care homes to develop resources, which we hope will be used by caring professionals all over the country.

A major strength of our research project has been collaborative working with our partners and beneficiaries to truly understand the demands of the sector, resulting in significant changes and impact on the nutritional care provided for people living with dementia.

The Impact

Dame Christine Beasley, Burdett Trust for Nursing 

The Burdett Trust for Nursing is delighted to have supported this vital area of research. Nutrition is a key issue for people with dementia and for busy frontline staff, it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly how best to support someone.

We are pleased to see the development of the pilot training programme and development of resources. Feedback from the pilot sessions have shown how care staff are already putting the research into practice and are reporting that they are trialling different methods of supporting people with dementia.

This could be anything from reconsidering what people are eating and drinking, to introducing new types of assistive cutlery and crockery, to changing approaches to meal times to better suit residents’ needs.

We hope that the research will make a real difference to dementia care practice.