Nutrition is a key factor in the wellbeing of people with dementia, according to a new report from Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI).
The research compiled by King's College London on behalf of ADI and the Compass Group found that 20-45% of people with dementia in the community experience clinically significant weight loss over one year.
Study lead Professor Martin Prince, from the King's College London Global Observatory for Ageing and Dementia Care, said: "For older people, undernutrition is arguably a greater health concern than obesity, and it is particularly common among people with dementia.
"This is a neglected area of research with important implications for quality of life, health and functioning. While weight loss in dementia is very common and can be an intrinsic part of the disease, it could be avoided and we should be doing more to tackle the problem."
The report, Nutrition and dementia, reviews existing research on dietary factors across the life course that might increase or decrease the risk of developing dementia in later life.
It suggests that while obesity in mid-life may be a risk factor for developing dementia in later life, weight loss tends to become a more significant issue in the decade leading up to the clinical onset of the condition and accelerates thereafter.
The report also details actions that could improve the nutrition of people with dementia such as modifying the mealtime environment and training carers. The researchers conclude that there is "much untapped potential" to improve the food intake and nutritional status of people with dementia.
Marc Wortmann, executive director of ADI, said: "We believe that a focus on diet, nutrition and wellbeing is a positive approach to supporting people with dementia and carers of this devastating disease. The report also shows we need more research into the potential role of nutrition in reducing the risk of developing dementia."
Mike Iddon, group healthcare director of Compass Group, added: "We recognise the importance of reports such as this, which further our understanding of the potential links between nutrition and dementia. By working closely with our healthcare and care home clients, we believe we can make a positive contribution to improving the care of people affected by dementia."
Read the full report at www.alz.co.uk/nutrition