Many people use the term “dementia” to cover diseases that cause issues with your cognitive abilities, like Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia causes challenges with memory, thinking, and behavior, and this can contribute to more health issues. The person may forget to eat or drink, leading to chronic infections and dehydration. But does dementia cause weight loss?

Related: Unintentional Weight Loss

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term for a decline in cognitive ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is not a specific disease, but you can think of it as an umbrella term that covers a wide range of symptoms linked with issues related to memory, reasoning, or other cognitive functions. Symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, but common signs and symptoms include:

  • Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks – For instance, forgetting how to tie shoes or prepare a meal.
  • Disorientation – For example, getting lost in familiar places.
  • Impaired Judgment – Making poor decisions or exhibiting decreased reasoning capabilities.
  • Language Problems – Such as struggling to track or join a conversation, repeating themselves, or failing to recall words or names.
  • Memory Loss – This is often one of the most recognized symptoms, especially forgetting recently learned information.
  • Mood and Personality Changes – Becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious.

There are several types of dementia a person can develop, and people of any age can start experiencing them, including:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease – The most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80% of cases. It’s characterized by specific hallmark brain abnormalities, namely plaques and tangles.
  • Frontotemporal Dementia – A form of dementia that involves loss of the nerve cells in the brain’s temporal or frontal lobes.
  • Lewy Body Dementia – Involves abnormal aggregates of protein in nerve cells, which can lead to symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Mixed Dementia – A mixture of two or more types of dementia.
  • Vascular Dementia – Often occurring after a stroke, it’s the second most common type of dementia.

Do you have a loved one with dementia who isn’t interested in eating a lot and they’re losing weight? Thrive Ice Cream is a sweet treat packed with nutrients, protein, and fiber that can help maintain weight and encourage good nutrition.

An elderly man holding a cane

Why Does Dementia Cause Weight Loss?

Many factors can cause weight loss in dementia patients, ranging from behavioral and cognitive changes to sensory dysfunction and hormone dysregulation. A few common reasons include: 

  • Behavioral Disorders – Because of brain changes, many symptoms of dementia can prevent people from getting proper nutrition while requiring a higher level of energy. 
  • Cognitive Changes – When communication networks in the brain are damaged or destroyed, neurological symptoms like memory loss and confusion happen. As a result, people with dementia frequently forget to eat and drink. They may also have trouble recognizing the food on their plate. 
  • Hormone Dysregulation – Neurotransmitters become active when the body calls for food, sending messages to the brain that signal hunger and stimulate appetite. The hypothalamic system’s hormones and chemicals are disrupted when brain cells are compromised by dementia.
  • Medical ConditionsWeight loss may also be attributed to coexisting medical conditions such as depression, diabetes, thyroid disease, constipation, cancer, dysphagia, heart and kidney disease, and dental issues.
  • Medications – Prescriptions used to treat the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may cause unintended weight loss.
  • Sensory Dysfunction – Changes in visual and motor skills and reduced gustatory perception (taste) discourage eating. The food on the plate may be difficult to see or smell.

Related: Malnutrition in Seniors Part 1

How Can You Discourage Weight Loss with Dementia Patients?

Weight loss is a genuine concern for dementia patients, but you can do several key things to help them maintain a healthy weight. These things include: 

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise sessions can help stimulate appetite, maintain muscle mass, and improve mood. However, you must ensure their exercises are appropriate for their safety level and abilities. 

  • Pick Enjoyable Activities – Tailor activities to the person’s interests, such as walking, light dancing, or simple stretches.
  • Routine is Key – Develop a consistent daily or weekly exercise routine.
  • Safety First – Always ensure exercises are conducted safely to prevent falls or injuries.

Healthy Diet

A healthy and nutritious diet is critical for people with dementia. Their dietary preferences and needs may also change as their cognitive functions change. Thrive Ice Cream, for example, can be an excellent addition. It’s a wonderful treat, and it provides many nutritional benefits for those with trouble eating, offering high-quality nutrition in a delicious form.

  • Frequent, Smaller Meals – Instead of trying to get the person to eat three large meals, opt for multiple smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Incorporate High Fiber Foods – These can aid in digestion and promote a feeling of fullness. Many people with dementia don’t get the recommended levels of fiber because women need 21 to 25 grams and men need 30 to 38 grams daily. 
  • Introduce Thrive Gelato – Use it as a dessert or snack to boost nutritional intake.

Mental Stimulation

Stimulating the mind can promote overall well-being and reduce the behaviors that cause weight loss. By setting up engaging activities, you’re giving the person a sense of purpose and fulfillment. A few options include: 

  • Daily Reading – Encourage reading newspapers, magazines, or favorite books.
  • Engage in Arts and Crafts – Painting, knitting, or other hobbies can be therapeutic and mentally stimulating.
  • Regular Brain Games – Introduce puzzles, memory games, or card games.

Quality Sleep

Adequate sleep is crucial for overall health. A disturbed sleep pattern can affect appetite and make dementia symptoms worse, leading to unintentional weight loss.

  • Limit Stimulants – Reduce caffeine or sugar intake, especially in the evening.
  • Optimize the Sleep Environment – Ensure a dark, quiet, and comfortable bedroom.
  • Regular Bedtime Routine – Ensure the patient goes to bed and wakes up at the same time daily.

Stress Management

Managing stress is crucial as high-stress levels can lead to loss of appetite and further cognitive decline. Ensuring a calm and soothing environment can significantly benefit dementia patients.

  • Familiar Environment – Keep surroundings consistent and familiar to reduce agitation.
  • Personal Items – Having familiar and comforting items nearby can help reduce stress.

Relaxation Techniques – Introduce deep breathing exercises or gentle massages.

An older man running next to a river

Active Social Life

Maintaining social connections can boost emotional well-being, indirectly supporting a healthy weight by fostering routines and reducing feelings of isolation or depression.

  • Frequent Visits – Encourage regular visits from family or friends to keep the patient connected.
  • Group Activities – Consider community centers or group activities designed for seniors.
  • Pet Therapy – Interaction with animals can provide comfort, companionship, and a sense of responsibility.

Getting someone with dementia enough calories each day can be a challenge, but Thrive’s Gelato is a delicious way to boost their nutrition. Featuring 9 grams of protein, 260 calories, and 24 vitamins and minerals per four-ounce serving, it’s a healthy and nutritious snack!

Warding Away Weight Loss in People with Dementia

Helping people with dementia keep a healthy weight can be a struggle, but you can do things to make this process easier. Feeding them a high-fiber diet, breaking it into smaller, more frequent meals, and introducing quality nutritional supplements like Thrive Ice Cream can help keep them healthy, happy, and enjoying life. 

Related: Build Immunity with Good Nutrition

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