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Nurses introduce 'finger food' menu for patients with dementia

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Nurses at a hospital trust are helping dementia patients to make meal choices and enjoy their food through the introduction of a new finger food menu.

Nursing, nutrition and catering staff at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust have worked together to create a picture-based menu to help patients with dementia eat at their own pace without the pressure of having to use a knife and fork.

“Progressive under-nutrition is particularly common among people with dementia”

David Welburn

The finger food initiative was piloted at Grimsby hospital and is now being rolled out across both Grimsby and Scunthorpe hospitals, with hopes to extend to Goole hospital as well.

Nurses who have trialled the menu have described it to help patients in their decision-making skills and to enjoy food little and often.

David Welburn, a dementia clinical nurse specialist who works across different hospitals at the trust, explained how finger foods can be “very helpful” as a means for encouraging people living with dementia to enjoy their food and drink.

“As dementia progresses people often find cutlery difficult to manage, they can also find it difficult to manage a full meal,” he said. “It provides an opportunity for patients who like to eat little and often the option of snacks mid-morning, afternoon and supper time.”

The menu features foods such as rice pudding, biscuits, pizza, cheese and crackers, sandwiches, spring rolls, fish fingers, cake and fruit which is all easy to nibble on, noted the trust.

“They said they wanted chips which we ordered straight away. It was great”

Alison Panitz

Mr Welburn said: “By offering tempting treats we hope to preserve a dementia patient’s eating skills, by triggering their attention and physical interaction with the food, as well as enabling them to eat at their own pace.

“Progressive under-nutrition is particularly common among people with dementia, so if we can encourage patients to eat it will not only help with their recovery but also ensure mealtimes become a pleasurable experience,” he added.

Deputy ward sister, Lisa Gilchrist, who works on ward B4 who piloted the scheme, applauded the finger food menu, and said it gave her patients a choice.

“The picture menu is easy for them to understand and they can choose a selection of things that they can nibble on throughout the day,” she said. “It gives them the independence to pick and choose what they eat and when.”

Ms Gilchrist explained that, as well as improving patients’ nutrition and encouraging independence, it is also a matter of dignity.

“It gives them the independence to pick and choose”

Lisa Gilchrist

She said: “By introducing this new menu, patients don’t have to use cutlery at a time when some may have lost that ability due to the progression of their disease.”

Nursing staff at Scunthorpe hospital have also seen “great results”, according to the trust.

Deputy ward sister Alison Panitz said: “We had a patient who came in who had eaten very little, if at all. We offered them the new dementia menu and they said they wanted chips which we ordered straight away. It was great as they tucked in and ate the lot.”

Ms Panitz added that the menu gave hospital staff the “flexibility to offer them something different and mealtimes do not have to be regimented”. 

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust

Finger food

Dementia clinical nurse specialist David Welburn, B4 ward sister Andrea Benson, deputy catering manager Nikola Dieudonne, B4 deputy ward sister Lisa Gilchrist, chef supervisor Carolyn Burnett and quality matron Sara Wood with some of the finger foods on offer

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It's funny how things revolve. I remember this same thing being introduced when I was training in the 1980's but nutritionists at the time said it was unhealthy

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