Not only is this week Dementia awareness week in Scotland, it is also Dietitians week across the United Kingdom. Our focus this year is how Dietitians can help with prevention. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to share with you what Dietitians are doing to make sure no-one faces dementia alone.
There is a lot of information on television, on social media and in newspapers about what we should and shouldn’t eat for good health. At times this includes information on specific foods and dementia. Often it can be difficult to know what to believe. Dietitians work in local communities, in hospitals, with government bodies and in the food and health industry. We aim to make sure that people are given the correct information about diet and nutrition, in a way that is easy to understand. Often this is to treat or help reduce symptoms from health conditions that can affect how you feel. By doing this we hope to make it easier to find information you can trust.
How can we help how you feel?
What you eat and drink can play a part in both preventing and managing mental ill health. Good nutrition and hydration can also help aid recovery.
The brain like any other organ in the body needs nutrients to work properly. You need to eat well and drink enough fluids for it to work as it should. We know that if you don’t get all the nutrients your brain needs this can increase difficulties with processing information and your memory. It can also affect how you feel, increase feelings of tiredness and lack of energy and contribute to low mood. Dietitians can help by providing information on how to get the right balance of nutrients you need from what you eat and drink. If you have dementia this can be more challenging to achieve. Small changes such preparing a jug of water or juice in a clear container can help to remind you to drink more. Using ready prepared foods including frozen, tinned or chilled foods can make preparing meals easier. In Lanarkshire, where I work, Dietitians have produced a hints and tips leaflet on nutrition and dementia to share this information. The leaflet is part of a wider range of hints and tips leaflets produced by allied health professionals for people with dementia. As part of Connecting People, Connecting Support we are looking at the best way to share this information with people across Scotland.
How can we help enable you to manage your own health?
Support from a dietitian can help you to manage symptoms from a health condition, reduce risks of further illness and prevent admission to hospital.
You may have a health issue which is not related to your dementia but effects how you feel. Examples of this could be after having an operation where you need help to heal wounds or broken bones. Maybe you need advice to help you manage conditions such as diabetes, anaemia or constipation. Depending on what the issue is you may need to speak to a dietitian directly who will carry out an individual assessment and give advice for your specific needs. You should discuss whether a referral would be beneficial with your health care professional or GP practice. However if it is something more straightforward you may need some information to help you do this without being seen. The British Dietetic Association is the professional body of dietitians in the United Kingdom. Their website has a range of useful leaflets on a range of topics called Food Factsheets. They can be accessed free of charge at: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/home
How can we help share our knowledge?
Good nutrition and hydration is essential for good health. Dietitians help the public at large to stay healthy which helps prevent illness and diet related conditions such as undernutrition and obesity.
Dietitians are involved in national and local groups looking at policies, guidelines and standards, advising on how nutrition can be used to improve health and well-being for everyone.
How can we help you get the most out of life?
For people who have a health condition such as dementia, support from a dietitian can provide symptom relief, prevent complications and help you to maintain enjoyment from what you eat and drink.
Dietitians are working to make links with the people who provide post diagnosis support to ensure they are able to identify where you may benefit from nutrition advice. In turn they will then be able to link you to the information available in your area or point you in the right direction if you need more support or referral to a dietitian.
Work is also underway to improve access to information that can help people who care for someone with dementia. Previously I worked alongside NDR-UK and Alzheimer Scotland to produce the leaflet ‘Eating Well with Dementia – A Carers Guide’. It is hoped that this will start to address some of the common questions or issues that might arise for someone with dementia who may need a bit more support to eat well.
However we are aware that it is not just the person with dementia that may need help. My colleague Lynne Stevenson, Dietitian has also been involved in producing resources with Carers UK to give advice on nutritional well-being for carers and you can read more about this in Lynn’s blog, “Raising Awareness & Importance to Eating Well When Living with Dementia”.
Do we help in any other way?
As dietitians we see people not just the condition. We know that there may be other issues that can impact on your health and well being such as smoking, activity, alcohol and work. No two people are the same, so this advice will change depending on what you need. Therefore we also act as a point of contact to share information that may be useful to you about your health. It may be that you wish to give up smoking and we can direct you to your local stop smoking services. You might want to improve your balance or be more active and we can give information on local leisure services you can access to work on this. Dietitians also work closely with other members of the health care team and if needed can request that a referral is made. An example of this would be if someone is experiencing swallowing or communication difficulties. In this case we would recommend that a referral is made to the Speech and Language Therapist who has the expertise to help you with these issues.
The British Dietetic Association and Alzheimer Scotland have recently produced a postcard to help share some of the ways dietitians can help you.
Written by: Gillian McMillan, Specialist Dietitian – Mental Health, NHS Lanarkshire