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Picture menu cards improve quality of life in people with dementia

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Providing older people with visual aids at mealtimes can significantly improve the quality of life of people with dementia, suggests an initiative at a specialist day centre in Manchester.

The picture menu cards were introduced two years ago at Wilshaw House, Ashton under Lyne, after staff at the centre became aware that the older people with dementia who used the centre appeared uninterested in food or eating.

Staff also noticed that people were leaving the table without finishing their meals, and would rather sleep than participate in afternoon activities.

Previously, the day’s menu choices were written on a board, and staff also asked people at the beginning of the day what they would like for lunch.

The problem with this method was that people with dementia can lose the ability to think for themselves, and will often say the same thing as the person next to them, said nurse Les Clarke, director of older people’s services at Housing 21, the not-for-profit organisation that runs the centre.

‘A lot of people coming to the centre had a low BMI and were malnourished. This can be a big issue for people with dementia because it can compound existing problems, such as skin or bowel problems,’ Mr Clarke told Nursing Times.

‘People with dementia also get distracted easily and can’t concentrate or remember what they are doing. They also have problems with language and the ability to articulate what they want,’ he added.

As well as restoring the centre users’ interest in food and helping to stimulate their desire to eat, the initiative has seen marked improvements in their physical health and quality of life.

‘A healthier, more balanced diet has resulted in less constipation and diarrhoea, both of which can exacerbate behaviour problems in people with dementia,’ said Mr Clarke.

‘They are also more awake and alert, and more willing to engage in stimulating afternoon activities which means they are more physically tired and their sleep is less disturbed at night. The menu cards have also given the centre users real choice, and more control over what they eat,’ he added. 

A detailed report on the initiative will be published in the practice section of Nursing Times next month.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • There is a company called visual communication aid that specialises in picture books for dementia suffers. They have a menu and care book.

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  • alzheimersideas

    I think this is a great idea. People with dementia do respond to pictures
    by Susan Berg author of Adorable Photographs of Our Baby-Meaningful, Mind-Stimulating Activities and More for the Memory Challenged, Their Loved Ones, and Involved Professionals, a book for those with dementia and an excellent resource for caregivers and healthcare professionals
    activitiesdirector.blogspot.com

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  • Great idea.

    As an alternative you could offer a choice of meal at the table. But with dementia it’s knowing the preference of that person.

    Also I note the sue of BMI. How many social care workers (that as opposed to health care workers) have an understanding of BMI? In elderly people the BMI may be underestimated because of the persons low muscle mass.

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