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The BBC's Richard Hannaford
"Hospitals were the main concern"
 real 28k

Sunday, 2 July, 2000, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Malnutrition risk for dementia sufferers
Elderly man
Alzheimer's patients often find difficulty with eating
Up to 500,000 people with dementia in the UK may be at risk of malnutrition, according to the Alzheimer's Society.

The charity carried out the biggest survey of carers of people with dementia ever conducted in the UK.

It found four out of five carers say eating is a problem for people with dementia, whether they are being cared for in hospital or a care home, or living at home.

Over half (52%) of carers had concerns about the quality of food their relatives received when in hospital.

I am haunted by the possibility that lack of food weakened my mother and prevented her recovery and that I was not aware enough of the dangers early on to do something about it

Survey respondent

The survey, Food for Thought, found a third of people with dementia (31%) did not receive enough food to eat in hospital, while nearly half (49%) were not getting enough to drink.

Food was frequently left at the ends of hospital beds out of the reach of people with dementia.

Food parcels

About 58% were not given enough time or assistance with eating.

Many carers said they had to bring in their own food to ensure relatives got enough to eat.

The survey also shows that in care homes, one in three people (33%) with dementia did not get enough to drink. More than one in ten (13%) were not getting enough to eat.

People with dementia living alone in their own homes were especially at risk of not getting enough to eat.

Three-quarters of respondents found meals on wheels services did not check food which was delivered was eaten.

People who are 70 don't want to drink out of cardboard boxes

Survey respondent

The chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, Harry Cayton, said people with dementia were amongst the most vulnerable in our society, and often forgot how to shop, cook and even how to eat.

He said: "When relatives entrust their care to professionals they assume that, at the very least, their basic nutritional needs will be met.

'The results of the Alzheimer's Society's survey clearly show that all too often this is not happening.

'Indignity and discomfort'

"The quality of care delivered often depends on the amount of time available to staff, their level of training and available resources."

Mr Cayton said: "If any of these are lacking, people with dementia may suffer the indignity and discomfort of not receiving enough to eat or to drink.

"This situation is highly distressing for the person with dementia and their carers alike."

The Alzheimer's Society is calling on those responsible for providing care to people with dementia to pay more attention to their basic health needs.

The charity is running an Alzheimer's Awareness Week from 2-8 July.

There are over 700,000 people with dementia in the UK. Approximately one third live alone in their own homes, one third in care homes or hospitals and one third are cared for at home by a friend or relative.

Dementia is a disease of the brain that causes a progressive decline in the ability to reason, to think, to remember and to learn.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia.

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