Campus News

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

News Release

May 17, 2007

Mealtimes Valued by People With Alzheimer's, Researchers Say

Sitting down to a meal can be the best part of the day for a person with Alzheimer’s, according to a new study by University of Guelph researchers.

Mealtime is when people with dementia feel most connected to their family, even if they can’t take part in the dinner-table conversation, said Prof. Heather Keller of the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition.

“It’s the face-to-face contact you have when sitting at the table together,” said Keller, who worked on the project with research associate Gayle Edwards and graduate student Carly Cook. “This is vital to people who are losing cognitive interaction and the ability to communicate.”

Keller compares it to the way young families often make time to eat together. Mealtime connects people physically and psychologically, regardless of the ability of all family members to communicate or converse.

“There’s an exchange of support among dinner companions,” she said. “During the meal, the person with dementia can give as well as receive physical, social and emotional support. It’s the eye contact and just physically being together at the table.”

These recent findings are the first part of a three-year study aimed at understanding the importance of mealtime in maintaining a connection with someone who has dementia. The study involves tracking and interviewing some 30 families from throughout southwestern Ontario who are experiencing dementia. Family partners involved in caregiving and people with dementia, primarily Alzheimer’s, participated in interviews.

The researchers spent the past year interviewing the families about the importance of mealtime. They found that those who recognized the social aspects of mealtime and made the effort to sit and eat with their loved ones were able to maintain a better connection.

Keller said they plan to use the results of the study to develop educational resources for families that will make mealtimes less stressful and more meaningful for caregivers and their loved ones.

About half of people with dementia receive care from family and friends, and many of the caregivers are baby-boomer children looking after their parents, said Keller. They can get caught up in the burdens of physically taking care of someone and simply view mealtime as another task to be done, she said. They lose sight of having an emotional connection and actually spending time with the person they are caring for.

Shared mealtime can be stressful for caregivers because their loved ones may forget where they are or what they are doing, she said, but it’s important to make the effort because it fulfils the caregivers’ need to feel connected.

“Mealtime is a window into how a family functions. It’s not about eating, it’s about taking the time to sit down and have a meal with someone you care about.”

Heather Keller
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
519-824-4120, Ext. 52544

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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