Study will explore the stresses that dementia sufferers and their caregivers face
BY SARAH FISCHER
OFFICE OF RESEARCH
Elderly people coping with dementia who live in long-term-care facilities often become confused and disoriented, and it's no different at the dinner table. Forgetting where they are and what they're doing there can make mealtime difficult and frustrating.
But many people in the early stages of this disease remain at home under the care of a spouse or family member. Pilot studies on dementia and mealtime suggest that eating at home is also stressful for care recipients. They often lose weight, jeopardizing their health. And caregivers find it stressful, too.
Prof. Heather Keller, Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, hopes to shed some light on this situation. Over the next three years, she and her research team will interview 30 families throughout southwestern Ontario to explore the stresses caregivers face — and how to reduce them — when sitting down for dinner with a relative living with dementia.
“This study gives a voice to persons with dementia and will allow caregivers to share mealtime strategies that work best for them,” says Keller.
She will interview each caregiver and care recipient together and individually, hoping these conversations will unveil how people in this situation view and deal with mealtimes. Although mealtimes are often a chore for caregivers, she says, some may use food and the ritual of eating to connect with someone who is losing his or her ability to converse.
Keller and her research group will use their results to develop educational resources to make mealtimes more successful for individuals looking after people with dementia. This research could also build on existing educational programs created by the Alzheimer's Society of Canada.
“So many people and their loved ones live with this disease every day,” says Keller. “We hope this project will enable any caregiver to develop strategies for making mealtime a good time for family, friends and dementia sufferers alike.”
Also involved in this study are Guelph graduate student Carly Cook, University of Waterloo research associates Sherry Dupuis and Gayle Edward, and McMaster University School of Nursing clinical instructor Lori Shindel-Martin. Their work is sponsored by the Alzheimer's Society and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
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