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Eating and drinking difficulties in Dementia

Patient information A-Z

Who is this leaflet for?

This leaflet is for carers or family members of people with dementia.

Eating and drinking in dementia

People with dementia can often have problems with eating and drinking. This can result in weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration, chest infections and / or a lack of enjoyment when eating and drinking.

Some common problems

  • Forgetting to eat and drink
  • Difficulties recognising food and drink
  • Finding it hard to concentrate on a meal
  • Holding food or drink in the mouth
  • Coughing when eating or drinking
  • Changes in the sense of smell / taste
  • Food left behind in the mouth after eating
  • Difficulty using cutlery or cups / glasses
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Refusing to eat
  • Reduced appetite

Ideas to help

Set up

Ensure that the person suffering from dementia is

  • Fully awake and alert
  • Sitting upright - as close to 90 degrees as possible
  • Wearing their glasses / hearing aids

Mouth care

  • Ensure dentures fit well
  • Brush teeth and gums after eating


  • Reduce distractions (for example turn off the TV)
  • Make mealtimes social - eat together
  • Make sure food and drink is within the eye line and easily reached
  • Allow plenty of time for the person to eat at their own pace

Self - feeding

If the person is having difficulty feeding themselves, you could:

  • Offer finger foods (sandwiches, vegetable sticks)
  • Use transparent cups / glasses
  • Try a spoon
  • Give hand-over-hand assistance - gently wrap your hand on top of their hand and guide them
  • Assist with cutting up foods if needed


If the person is holding food in their mouth or over-filling their mouth before

swallowing, you could:

  • Prompt the person to swallow
  • Offer an empty spoon or fork between mouthfuls - this can help to prompt a swallow
  • Encourage the person to take small mouthfuls

Encouraging appetite

  • Ensure food looks and smells appealing – e.g. use moulds for puree
  • Encourage the m to eat foods they enjoy - tastes can change over time
  • Offer foods with high water content (jelly, soups, gravy)
  • Aim for smaller, more frequent meals
  • Offer snacks and drinks regularly

Involving the person

  • Give choices - use pictures or objects to support the person
  • Wait until the person is calm before offering food and drink
  • Look out for non-verbal clues such as body language and eye contact as a means of communication
  • Ask about their favourite food

Who can help?

A Speech and Language Therapist can:

  • Complete a swallowing assessment
  • Recommend appropriate consistencies or strategies to enable the person to eat and drink safely

An Occupational Therapist can:

  • Offer advice about aids and positioning to help with eating and drinking

A Dietitian can:

  • Offer advice on nutrition, supplements and encouraging appetite

A Doctor can:

  • Offer advice if swallowing tablets is problematic
  • Offer general advice and referral to appropriate professionals

Helpful resources / websites

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

Help accessing this information in other formats is available. To find out more about the services we provide, please visit our patient information help page (see link below) or telephone 01223 256998.

Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151