Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

July 22, 2005

Researchers Aim to Improve Mealtimes for Dementia Sufferers, Caregivers

Elderly persons coping with dementia often become confused and disoriented, and it’s no different at the dinner table if they forget where they are and what they’re doing, says a University of Guelph professor embarking on a new research project that aims to provide solutions to the stresses felt by those with the disease and those providing day-to-day care.

Over the next three years, Heather Keller of the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition 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.

Many people in the early stages of this disease remain at home under the care of a spouse or other family member rather than live in a long-term care facility, and these circumstances can make mealtimes difficult for caregivers and care recipients alike, said Keller.

Pilot studies on dementia and mealtime suggest eating can be stressful for care recipients, who often jeopardize their health because of weight loss, and stressful for caregivers who are unable to communicate with those in their care,” she said.

“This study gives a voice to persons with dementia and will allow caregivers to share mealtime strategies that work best for them.”

Keller will interview each caregiver and care recipient together and individually and believes these conversations will reveal how people in this situation view and deal with mealtimes. Although mealtimes are often a chore for caregivers, some may use food and the ritual of mealtime to connect with someone who is losing his or her ability to converse, she said.

The results will be used to develop educational resources to make mealtimes more successful for individuals looking after people with dementia. This research could also be used to enhance pre-existing educational programs created by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, she said.

“Many people and their loved ones live with this disease everyday. 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 project are University of Guelph graduate student Carly Cook and research associate Gayle Edward; University of Waterloo researcher Sherry Dupuis; and Lori Schindel-Martin a professor at McMaster University School of Nursing and Executive Director of the Ruth Sherman Centre for Research and Education at Shalom Village. This research is sponsored by the Alzheimer Society of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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