Making sure your diet and choices are respected as you get older or move to a care home

V for Life wants vegans and vegetarians’ values to be respected throughout life, including in care settings. There are several useful tools available to help people plan for how they would like to be cared for in the future.

When John visited his father, who had dementia, in hospital, he found him eating ham sandwiches.

This was unusual because John’s father had been a vegetarian for over 30 years – he’d simply forgotten. 

This sparked a conversation between John and his mother, who was also vegetarian. 

‘Please don’t ever let me eat meat,’ she said. ‘It’s really important to me.’

She also developed dementia but, thanks to this conversation, John knew her wishes. 

He discussed these with her care provider, with support from a charity called V for Life.

A vegan gratin, left, and a picture of V for Life CEO Amanda Woodvine, right

Supporting choice in care homes

V for Life provides support for older vegetarians and vegans.

‘It’s important for everybody to get a healthy, balanced diet,’ says chief executive Amanda Woodvine.

If you’re in a care setting, you might be completely reliant upon the food that is provided for you.

‘It’s important that these meals reflect your personal and ethical preferences. 

‘We are only aware of three fully vegetarian care homes currently in the UK. 

‘So, for older vegans and vegetarians, choosing a care home can be challenging.’

‘Mixed bag’ for plant-based menus

A report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vegetarianism and Veganism suggests that plant-based catering is lacking in some UK care homes. 

‘You can get a mixed bag when it comes to smaller operators, where catering for vegetarians and vegans isn’t a main priority,’ Amanda says.

Menus for care homes aren’t often publicised and don’t necessarily have any symbols to show if something is plant-based or not.

V for Life provides guidance for care providers, who can also sign up to be included in its directory of care homes.

Listed providers have committed to training staff and providing nutritious, varied meals.

Wishes respected for special diets

Being able to choose what you eat isn’t only important for vegetarians and vegans. It applies to people with special diets due to their religion, health needs or simply personal preference. 

‘Those wishes can very much be lost if you’re being cared for in the future and haven’t made them clear,’ says Amanda. 

‘If you’re living in a care home, for example, you may have smells of meats and dairy wafting through, or plant-based options might not be advertised on the lunch or dinner menu. 

In some cases, lifelong vegans and vegetarians are eating and asking for meat, even though this would not be their wish. 

‘They have forgotten that they don’t eat meat or animal products. 

‘This is why it’s important to discuss wishes ahead of time.’

Peace of mind 

There are things we can do to help ensure that our wishes about diet are respected when we’re less able to communicate them. 

V for Life offers a self-advocacy pack, with a step-by-step guide as well as template letters for care providers and a statement of wishes.

The pack costs £2 plus postage, and there’s a different version for each UK nation.

‘We encourage people to fill in the statement of wishes,’ Amanda says.

It helps to make it clear what you want for your future care, and you will have peace of mind that your values are being preserved.

Tools and community

V for Life has developed cards that can be used with Talking Mats – a way to help people communicate about feelings and views using picture cards on a surface. 

Amanda says these can be useful for starting conversations about diet and choice.

You could use a Talking Mat to ask why someone might suddenly want meat, even though they have been a vegetarian for years.

The charity has many other guides, including one to ‘veganise’ classic dishes like cottage pie, Eton mess and even fish and chips. 

Its pen-and phone-pal scheme also helps older vegetarians and vegans feel less isolated. 

One pen pal says, ‘There are a lot of younger vegans out there (which is brilliant) but I was feeling rather alone at 63. It’s nice to be part of a community.’

A useful tool for personalised care

'This is me’ is a simple leaflet to share a person’s preferences and more.

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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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