Feeding and dementia: a systematic literature review


  • Roger Watson PhD RN FIBiol FRSA,

  • Sue M. Green BSc MMedSci PhD PGCert

Roger Watson,
The Graduate Division of Nursing and Midwifery,
University of Sheffield,
E-mail: roger.watson@sheffield.ac.uk


Aim.  This paper reports a systematic review of the literature on interventions to promote oral nutritional intake of older people with dementia and feeding difficulty between 1993 and 2003.

Background.  Older people with dementia commonly experience difficulty with feeding, especially in the later stages of the condition. This topic and related nursing care was reviewed in 1993 and the conclusion was that there was little research into interventions that nurses could use to alleviate feeding difficulty.

Method.  A systematic review of the literature was carried out using the CINAHL, Medline, EMBASE and Cochrane databases and the search terms ‘feeding’, ‘eating’ and ‘dementia’ combined as follows: ‘(feeding or eating) and (dementia)’. A second search was carried out combining the search terms ‘mealtimes’ and ‘dementia’ as follows: ‘mealtimes and dementia’. The literature search was carried out on 1 December 2003 and papers were included in the review if retrieved by 31 December 2003. English language papers only were retrieved.

Results.  Sixty-seven papers were retrieved, of which 13 addressed interventions aimed at helping older people with dementia to feed. All studies reported positive outcomes but only one randomized controlled trial was reported. Music was the most common intervention but there were no standardized interventions or outcomes across the studies and none reported the use of power analysis to decide on sample size. There were problems in some studies with confounding variables.

Conclusions.  Further research is needed into interventions aimed at how nurses can help older people with dementia to feed. There are some promising lines of enquiry, with music being one of these, but future studies need to use adequate samples and to use power calculations and account adequately for confounding variables. There is also a need to standardize interventions and outcomes across such studies to facilitate meta-analysis.