Eating and drinking

People with dementia often experience problems with eating and drinking. These web pages describe the most common challenges and why eating healthily is important.

Eating and drinking well is important for staying healthy. A healthy diet is likely to improve a person's quality of life. Not eating enough can lead to weight loss and other problems including fatigue, higher risk of infection and less muscle strength.

People with dementia may become dehydrated if they are unable to communicate or recognise that they are thirsty, or if they forget to drink. This can lead to headaches, increased confusion, urinary tract infection and constipation. These can make the symptoms of dementia worse.

While a healthy, balanced diet is important, in the later stages of dementia the most important thing is making sure the person with dementia takes on nutrition, and a higher-calorie diet may be appropriate. A dietitian can give you advice on what is best in a particular situation.

Weight loss 

Weight loss is common in people with dementia, although the causes vary. They may include:

  • lack of appetite
  • difficulties cooking
  • problems with communicating or recognising hunger
  • poor co-ordination
  • getting tired more easily
  • difficulties with chewing and swallowing.
  • If the person is losing weight, speak to the GP. They can refer the person to a dietitian.

Common problems

Poor appetite, cognitive impairment (problems with mental abilities), physical disabilities and sensory impairments (hearing and sight loss) can all cause the person with dementia to have problems 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. Because of this you should take into account the person's preferences, beliefs, culture and life history. For example, their religious beliefs may mean they do not eat certain foods such as pork or shellfish, or they may be affected by the environment around them. You should tailor solutions to the person's individual needs and preferences.

As dementia progresses, the person is likely to need more support to meet their needs.

The next couple of pages describes the most common challenges people affected by dementia can having with eating and drinking. 

Further reading