Respecting people’s values about food and drink in care homes

A person-centred approach to food and drink provides a better quality of life for care home residents who have dementia.

If a person with dementia needs to move into a care home, choosing the right home can feel daunting. Our Selecting and moving into a care home booklet explains the process and provides checklists of things to consider, including a home’s approach to food and drink. 

What we eat and drink is an important part of our identity. How well a care home caters for a person’s food and drink needs can make a big difference to their experience of living there.

This includes the person’s likes and dislikes, but also any medical requirements, cultural expectations and religious or ethical values.

Staff at Mayfield House in Crewe

Identity and beliefs 

Vegetarian for Life (VfL) is a charity that supports older vegetarians and vegans, including people with dementia living in care homes. Last year, they launched a guide to help people receiving care to protect their vegan and vegetarian values. 

‘Many people assume that veganism and vegetarianism are new concepts – something for younger generations – but that simply isn’t true’, says Amanda Woodvine, Chief Executive of VfL. 

‘In later life, many of us rely on others for food. Conditions such as dementia can be an additional barrier to maintaining control over our diets and our identity and beliefs.’ 

VfL has heard from many older vegans and vegetarians, and their families, about being given food in social care settings that goes against their fundamental beliefs. 

To help address this, VfL is calling on care homes to sign its Memory Care Pledge. This commits them to providing people with a choice of vegetarian and vegan meal options, helping to support residents in their beliefs and ensuring these are catered for during celebrations. 

The pledge also says that people should be given the opportunity to eat at a vegetarian-only or vegan-only table where possible, and that someone who might have accidentally chosen a meal that doesn’t uphold their beliefs be offered an alternative that does.

Amanda Woodvine and Faith Walker

Amanda and Faith.

Dignity and respect 

When it comes to religious or cultural requirements, the right approach can really benefit the person with dementia and their family. 

Faith Walker’s mum, known by all as Mrs Walker, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia in 2014, and now lives at Penylan House Community Nursing Home in Cardiff. 

Staff there are extremely sensitive to her needs and preferences, and on-site caterers prepare what Faith describes as ‘excellent fresh, nutritional, tasty food’ every day. 

‘When she arrived, the home asked what cultural meals she would appreciate,’ says Faith, whose mum grew up in Jamaica. 

‘I was happy for the managers to ask that question. It made me more appreciative of the home and showed me that Mum’s needs were at the centre of her care.’

Mrs Walker eats a puréed diet, including favourites such as mango smoothies and fruit. 

‘Mum’s taste senses are still activated and her enjoyment can be seen through the sounds and facial gestures that she makes,’ says Faith, who stresses the importance of culturally appropriate care. 

‘I want her to still have things around that she recognises and is familiar with, and that includes her meals, because this will impact her wellbeing. 

‘People’s diverse needs should be met. It’s their human right and provides a sense of belonging, love, dignity and respect.’

Staff at Mayfield House in Crewe

Quality of life 

Many different staff are involved in providing food and drink for a person in a care home – understanding their general needs and what they’d like at a particular time, preparing and serving it, and being there for them as they eat or drink it. 

How can they ensure they’re fully aware of someone’s dietary requirements and preferences, and what could the person’s family or friends do to help? 

Mayfield House, a care home in Crewe, uses ‘This is me’ – a simple leaflet produced by Alzheimer’s Society – to ensure that its food is tailored to the needs of each resident. 

‘This is me’ can be used to record a person’s cultural and family background, preferences and routines. Even if they can’t easily share this information about themselves, their relatives and friends can help to complete it. 

‘I believe that using “This is me” is one of the first steps to take when offering meal choices to residents with dementia,’ says the home’s chef Rod Hulme. 

‘We’ve used it for all of our residents to ensure that they thrive. The positive outcomes have been quicker, more robust and provide a quality of life that these people deserve. 

‘One resident came to the home with weight-gain supplements and a loss of appetite. She is also a very fussy eater. 

‘It was just a matter of finding her likes and dislikes and giving her choices. She is now on solid food of her choice, with no supplements necessary. This was achieved by the dedication of our staff and the use of “This is me”.’ 

This is me

A simple leaflet for anyone receiving professional care who is living with dementia or experiencing delirium or other communication difficulties.

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1 comment

My hub in a nursing home when food is offered or suggested always says "I am not hungry" Occasionally when asked he says yes he would like (for instance) am egg on toast. When it arrives he will not eat it. "I am not hungry" If persuaded to take an offered spoonful he grimaces and gags as if it is poison and says he does not want any more. I have found just two items he will take ( with a lot of persuasion) when I am there. I take in home grown blackberries in yogurt and he will let me feed him a small pot. I have finally got the message over that it is a waste of time to offer him soup but he will drink half a mug of Bovril. He lives on this awful Forti sip stuff. , I do wonder if that is what makes him not hungry. The home does try, they have a small area of cupboard with items in which I have said he used to like. There is not much evidence any of it is used, as the amounts do not seem to decrease at all.