Dementia can cause a wide range of symptoms within a person, and weight loss is one of them. However, most patients suffer from severe weight loss at a very advanced stage of dementia, rarely from the beginning. 1 in every 2 or 3 people affected by dementia will experience severe weight loss.
Not your general weight loss
It should be noted that this particular weight loss is not caused due to the fact that they are being fed less. In fact patients with full diets can also experience severe weight loss.
It is closely linked to the other problems faced in advanced age, which may be or may not be related to dementia.
Dementia patients may have a number of medical or physical problems that may directly or indirectly result in weight loss. According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, dementia patients don’t really have control on many contributing factors such as our age and gender, but we can influence our lifestyle and what we choose to do with our time after diagnoses.
These medical issues include:
- Depression – the patient may be feeling under the weather, or upset about a particular situation which may or may not relate to him. It is normal for people to over or under eat in depression.
- Pain – there may be areas like the abdomen or chest where the patient might feel pain enough to stop him from concentrating on his meals.
- Constipation – This might produce a full stomach sensation, and not allow the patient to eat properly until the bowel movements have been fixed.
Other more severe reasons may include chronic infections, thyroid diseases or special low cholesterol diets for the patients. Again, it may not be the same for everyone.
- Swallowing – Patients may have issues with their throats, an itch or tightening which may repel them from taking food in their mouth
- Consistency – Sometime the consistency of the food that they get is not right, it may be too thick or too thin for them, so it is important to check with the patient or family regarding dietary preferences.
- Taste – Dementia patients may forget the taste of some or most foods that they have eaten, which may cause confusion for them. Other than this, medicines may cause the taste of the tongue to become bitter which makes it difficult for the patient to eat
- Dental – These problems can range from bad teeth to mouth ulcers. Also, bad dentures or grazed gums can also become an issue for the patient as it makes chewing extremely difficult.
- May need to be fed – Some patients may need to be fed by hand, regardless of dementia, old people do need this kind of care.
Even if these above mentioned reasons of weight loss have been managed, it may continue still. If it does, there is a very high chance that the patient is suffering from cachexia, which is caused by advanced diseases like dementia or cancer. How does this work? Patients with Cachexia are not able to absorb the nutrients from the food that they consume, even though they are fulfilling their daily calorie count.
When the patient loses weight even after management, their body becomes weak, they feel tired all the time, and lose their appetite. Unfortunately, this is the time the patient’s body slows down at a considerable rate and nears the end.
2015 research outlines that some drugs used for the treatment of dementia may also cause extreme weight loss. These drugs are called cholinesterase inhibitors, and they can have side effects such as gastrointestinal symptoms resulting in the patient losing weight more rapidly. Find more information about this research study here.
It is scary to watch a person lose weight rapidly despite the food that is being fed to them, but it is to be considered that weight loss is an indicator of advanced dementia.
What can be done?
Sometimes artificial feeding through tubes is considered, that lead the food directly into the stomach. It is especially for those patients who cannot chew or swallow, however, it can be very uncomfortable for the patient and they certainly will not enjoy a simple activity of being fed, this type of feeding is not recommended for people with advanced dementia, but it always present as an option for worst case scenarios.
Feeding the patient slowly and patiently with your hand would be a better option, as it will be a form of social contact which is vital for dementia patients. Food that smells and looks good may stimulate appetite as well. Find more information regarding dementia diet tips here.
ABOUT ALMA CAUSEY
Alma Causey is a freelancer and blog writer. She writes articles related to technology and medical. She is an active member Brain test society. A writer by day and reader by night. Her passion is to help people in all aspect of research industry.
Find her on Twitter: @Almacausey
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