Dignity in Dementia: New Research Reveals the Challenges of Providing Good Nutrition in Care Homes

Bournemouth University researcher to present results at American Alzheimer’s Association International Conference

20-Jul-2015 4:05 AM EDT

Bournemouth University

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Newswise — Unexplained weight loss is often seen in people with dementia, which can lead to further complications, including mental and physical deterioration. New research from Bournemouth University, funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing, has revealed the challenges of providing good nutrition and hydration in people with dementia who live in care homes.

Results among participants in local Dorset care homes showed that there were significant variations in calorie and fluid intake over the course of a day. Daily food intake ranged from 700 – 3,000 kcal per day, with some people not eating enough to fulfil their daily living tasks.

The Body Mass Index of participants also showed huge variation, with 40% being classified as underweight. Fluid intake fluctuated between 372 ml and 2,025 ml per day, with some people not meeting their recommended daily fluid intake of 1,500ml per day.

The use of a light weight physical activity monitor – Sensewear™ Armband from Body Media – provided an innovative way to objectively determine total energy expenditure, sleep duration and physical activity.

The results showed that physical activity and sleep patterns varied hugely with people spending between 6 and 23.7 hours undertaking sedentary activity. This suggested that poor sleep patterns and lack of physical activity may be contributing to low food intake.

Lead researcher, Dr. Jane Murphy, explained some of the challenges faced by care staff when supporting someone with dementia to eat healthily, “People may need much longer to eat due to poor coordination or becoming tired more easily, while others may be losing their appetites or face difficulties with chewing and swallowing. As dementia progresses, many people become less able to sense their thirst, meaning that they may be unaware they are dehydrated.”

Dr. Murphy continued, “Care staff are facing increasingly complex demands and we hope that the training resources we are developing as a result of our research will provide the tools needed to support good nutrition for people with dementia.”

Commenting for the Burdett Trust for Nursing…said, “Over 850,000 people in the UK have dementia and with numbers set to rise as the population ages, ensuring dignity in care is a priority for care and nursing staff. This research shows that there is a need for more staff support in this area and we are pleased to be supporting the development of training tools and resources.”

- Notes –

Bournemouth University (BU) is based on the south coast of England and is recognised as one of the most innovative universities in the UK, creating a unique fusion of education, research and professional practice.

In the latest Research Excellence Framework, 96% of Bournemouth University's research was rated as internationally recognised or above, with 18% of that deemed to be world leading.

The research was funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing. The Trust is an independent charitable trust and provides grants in support of nurse-led projects, with the intention of empowering nurses and making improvements to the patient care environment.

The project, entitled ‘empowering nurses and care home staff to lead excellence in nutrition and dignity in dementia care’ is being led by BU’s Dr. Jane Murphy and Joanne Holmes, lecturer in nutrition at BU.

Dr. Jane Murphy is presenting the research results at the American Alzheimer’s International Conference in Washington on 20th July.

Training materials for care staff are currently being developed and will be made available in November 2015.


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