People living with dementia can often experience problems with eating and drinking. Poor appetite, cognitive and sensory impairment and physical disabilities are all common challenges.
Lucy’s mum, Rosemary, is living with Alzheimer’s disease. Here, Lucy shares the challenges they had with eating and trying to keep her mum safe in her own home for as long as possible.
Lucy and Rosemary’s story
Mum would eat odd things, unable to cook anymore, or forgetting to eat, loving sweets and cakes, but surprisingly losing weight. Not recognising when food was spoiled, out of date or mouldy.
I considered that the best way I could help her was to arrange for meals on wheels to be delivered to her home. I also ordered a food delivery on a weekly basis from the supermarket giving her more variety and choice.
She enjoyed the company from a local care agency. They were supportive and kind helping her with housework and in making her shopping list. They were good company for her too, especially in winter, the colder weather restricting her to the indoors and spending more time alone.
She had been getting quite confused about the day and time. My sister hoped to help her focus by giving her a diary – sort of timetable to try and focus her on. When was breakfast, lunch and dinner, when she should feed the dog. Little reminders of when she had dental or doctors’ appointments and reminding her that the dentist suggested she brush her teeth both morning and evening.
On one of her OCD events, lovely fresh salads and ready meals would be decanted into a bin liner. Just one or two items at a time and then taken outside to the communal skip. Any passer-by must have thought it was their lucky day, free food. If the neighbours noticed nothing was said.
Getting more support at home
I heard from a community mental health nurse who suggested trying to arrange for the nurse to visit and see if we could get the medical team to prescribe a ‘patch,’ which would go on her arm weekly therefore having no need to go back to the memory clinic.
The GP suggested the community nurse pop in. He could get a prescription for medication which may help to improve her memory.
I enlisted more help from the agency to go in and check up on her; do light housework, or just help her to make a snack for lunch.
Her daily care chart mentioned: ‘Rosemary must have done a talc dance today; the bathroom was festooned in it’.
I put on wash loads and sorted out her clothes hanging them up to dry. I checked out her fridge for expired products and we ate lunch together whenever I could, but I was already working and caring for my own children.
I ordered food weekly, trying my best to help; however I would find lettuce in the freezer and ice cream in the fruit bowl.
The fridge would be turned off for an unknown reason and unspecified amount of time. One of her carers wrote ‘got a quiche out of the fridge for lunch, it had mould on it; Rosemary became loud and aggressive when I advised her not to eat it.’ I ordered bin liners and bleach-and couldn’t understand where they were going.
A trip to the local shop
Wine was the other thing that went missing. Of course Mum was an adult, so she would take herself, with her wheelie trolley, up the local shop and buy wine. But because she was forgetting when she last had a little drop, she would have another and maybe another. The good thing was, she could only drink what she could collect.
I have no idea whether during this time she knew how much things were worth. I am quite sure she didn’t know the difference between a five or a ten pound note. I like to think the local shop was run by honest people and by going with her on occasion, I was able to show she was not alone. Soon to my relief, my brother took over the finances.
Mum became less confident in the use of the microwave following an incident of one burnt pan and a suspicious looking mark on the floor.
Food was not being rotated, mould was a common sight in her new fridge. She started to turn off the fridge. She forgot what time and day it was often, in spite of my big clock indicating the time, day and date. She kept on changing the day, I had to adjust the time each time I saw her.
I arranged for an electrician to come. She gave him a cheque with the wrong date on it, not sure if he ever did get paid. But he was a kind soul so he may have excused her.
On the surface, we looked fairly normal going out together. On closer examination the onlooker could see that Mum was dressed in several layers of clothing, at least one of which was her pyjamas. And on closer inspection, the outer layer holds a few drops of yesterday’s dinner.
Her teeth were starting to decay at a rapid rate. The toothbrush lays suspiciously dry together with the shower and reminders went unnoticed.
I would take Mum for an outing to the local tea shop, a lovely shop in a quintessentially English village. The owner became used to us and tolerated our custom in a polite and friendly manor. We enjoyed cake, cappuccino and polite conversation.
Mum was starting to be unable to cope with her day to day life. She used to know she had 10 grandchildren, but now thinks she has 6. She is unsure of the season, to her it is March – clearly the leaves are falling – it is October and Autumn.
Advice about eating and drinking
If you are experiencing any of the challenges Lucy described, please read our factsheet on Eating and drinking.
Alternatively, our National Dementia Helpline team are here to offer dementia information, advice or guidance. Please call them on 0300 222 1122.