Eating family-style meals could improve dementia patients’ quality of life, Norwich research finds

The new UEA Medical School building on the campus.edp 21/09/02<Picture: James Bass>

The new UEA Medical School building on the campus. edp 21/09/02 <Picture: James Bass> - Credit: ECN - Archant

Spending mealtimes together and making eating interactive could improve quality of life for people with dementia, Norwich researchers believe.

Findings published today from the University of East Anglia study reveal that eating family-style dinners with care givers, playing music and engaging with multisensory exercises during meals could improve nutrition and hydration for people with the disease.

During the study, which was funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Fellowship Award, the team reviewed research from around the world and assessed the effectiveness of 56 so-called interventions which aimed to improve food and drink intake for more than 2,200 people with dementia.

Among the interventions were changing the colour of the plate, increasing exercise and doing tai-chi, singing and playing music, creating a homely atmosphere and boosting the social side of dining.

Lead researcher Dr Lee Hooper, from UEA's Norwich Medical School, said: 'The risk of dehydration and malnutrition are high in older people, but even higher in those with dementia.

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'Malnutrition is associated with poor quality of life so understanding how to help people eat and drink well is very important in supporting health and quality of life for people with dementia.'

Researchers also looked at whether better education and training for care-givers could help, as well as behavioural changes - such as giving encouragement for eating.

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They then assessed whether the changes improved hydration status and body weight and whether they helped older people enjoy the experience more.

Dr Hooper said: 'We found a number of promising interventions – including eating meals with care-givers, having family-style meals, facilitating social interaction during meals, longer mealtimes, playing soothing mealtime music, doing multisensory exercise and providing constantly accessible snacks.'

He said while many of the studies considered were too small to draw any firm conclusions, it suggested a 'holistic mix' of where people eat and drink, their atmosphere and understanding of care-givers was important to improving their nutritional wellbeing.

The research involved bodies such as AgeUK Norfolk, NorseCare, the University of Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, and King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

• If you have a health story, email our correspondent Nicholas Carding on

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