Eating and drinking

People with dementia often experience problems with eating and drinking, but there are ways to help manage these.

Why is eating and drinking important?

A healthy, balanced diet can help improve a person’s quality of life. However, common symptoms of dementia (such as memory loss and difficulties with thinking and problem-solving) can make it more difficult to eat and drink well.

People with dementia often have physical difficulties including hearing and sight loss that can also cause problems with eating and drinking.

Although eating and drinking difficulties are fairly common in people with dementia, each person’s difficulties will be unique to them and their situation.

A person with dementia may struggle to recognise the food and drink in front of them. They may also be unsure how to begin eating. These problems may start because:

  • of changes that dementia causes in the brain
  • the person is given unfamiliar food
  • the food is presented differently.
Discussions about Eating and Drinking in our online community, Talking Point...
Discussions about Eating and Drinking...

Weight loss and dementia

A person with dementia may not eat or drink for these reasons, even when they feel hungry. This can lead to weight loss.

Respecting the preferences of a person with dementia will support them to eat and drink well. Similarly, eating and drinking can be made more difficult if a person’s routine and diet are changed.

For example, if a person is not used to spicy foods, they may not enjoy the sensation of eating heavily spiced meals. The person may be used to having different portion sizes, eating more or less regularly throughout the day, and may also not eat some foods because of their religious beliefs. By understanding a person with dementia’s preferences, you can support them to eat and drink.

As dementia progresses, the person is likely to need more support to meet their needs. While eating a balanced diet is recommended, sometimes it is more important to make sure they are eating enough, even if that means eating unhealthy foods. They may also need more support with drinking.

How can I support a person with dementia to eat and drink well?

  • Keep in mind that problems with eating and drinking are common for people with dementia.
  • Remember that people with dementia don't need a special diet.
  • There are approaches you can try. Aim for the least stressful solutions – common sense and a creative approach often help. 
  • Remember the person – think about what they like and don’t like, and bear in mind their life history including past routines.
  • Look for non-verbal clues such as body language and eye contact as a means of communication.  
  • Keep calm and try not to rush the person. It’s important they don’t feel hurried and they are given enough time to eat.
  • Help them maintain as much independence as possible.
  • Remember that you’re not alone. If you’re concerned about a person’s diet, speak to the GP. A dietitian can also give advice on what is best in a particular situation.

For more advice on a healthy, balanced diet, go to the NHS Choices website (see Other resources).

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