Nutrition The positive impacts of social dining at Christmas, and every day for people with dementia

Laughter, conversation, and the chinking of wine glasses were just some of the sounds that delighted me as our residents shared Christmas dinner with both their carers and their families at Ixworth Court Dementia Village. The cooking from our in-house chef filled our care home with delicious aromas that enticed residents to take their seats at the beautifully dressed tables, amidst the Christmas tree and its decorations in our contemporary styled restaurant.

Crackers were pulled, wine glasses filled, and nutritious home-cooked food was served to the tables with all of the expected Christmassy trimmings, it was a sight and sound to behold, and heart-warming to see residents sharing this special time with their family and friends.

Leaf Care regularly couple socialisation with good food, but why is it important, and how does it positively impact a person with dementia? 

Special occasions have the potential to be key triggers of positive emotions, and by connecting a special event with the celebration and enjoyment of food, it encourages free-flowing conversation between people and inspires reconnection where there is conflict. This approach can help people with dementia to associate food with positive socialisation.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs best supports this observation at Ixworth Court Dementia Village—a theory in psychology; it comprises five tiers, structured in a pyramid that from the bottom up, recognizes the five core human needs as physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. The theory is considered one of human motivation,  with physiological needs appearing at the bottom of the pyramid as a priority—that includes air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, and reproduction—these needs must be satisfied before any person feels able to address the needs in the four remaining tiers.

The want and ability to eat can change in those with dementia, and this consequentially impacts nutritional intake and health. As the disease progresses, those with dementia find shopping for food difficult and preparing and cooking food a challenge. The disease over time can affect swallowing ability, and using knives and forks can feel uncoordinated and frustrating, but evidence suggests that when we step outside the biomedical view of food provision and look closely at the relationships people have with one and other and how they communicate over food, that there is noticeable uplift in food consumption, and subsequently, quality of life.   

When a person with dementia regularly dines with carers, friends, or family, hunger, and the need to eat is sophisticatedly managed. The person with dementia is not only eating to satisfy hunger but also to socially engage, these two experiences then become positively interlinked, and we notice an increase in both the amount and the variety of food which is consumed and an increase in time spent at the table. Improved food consumption can often enhance the mood in our residents, and with a better frame of mind comes a desire to eat. Socialising with others while eating can positively impact nutrition and overall wellbeing.

During 2019s Christmas Dinner event at Ixworth Court Dementia Village, one family member shared that, ‘it was the first time that she had been able to sit down and enjoy a meal with her Mum in 20 years’. In addition, we observed one of our residents at Ixworth Court, enjoying dinner with his wife after being reluctant to leave his room for 12 weeks.

Our resident Joyce said, ‘It was lovely to have my family with me in the restaurant’,  Peggy told us, ‘I enjoyed the meal’, Edith shared, ‘I enjoyed a glass of wine’, Tony said, ‘I like the crackers’, and Jennie seemed to enjoy having her best friend with her.  

Ixworth Court can’t wait for our next table celebration with a nutritious plate of food. In the meantime, why not visit our restaurant, you can dine with friends, family, or use one of our spaces for a corporate event.

We look forward to seeing you.