Five Ways to Futureproof Your Vegan or Vegetarian Diet From Dementia
September 2020 is World Alzheimer’s Month and a chance to reflect on two things that most of us do not like to think about at all: Where will I be in older age? What will happen to me should I develop cognitive impairment?
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia in the UK. Our approach to life and our cherished beliefs can often be threatened by dementia: by the cruel illness that gradually diminishes the essence of our former selves; and by the choices that are made for us by others as our own ability to look after ourselves and make appropriate lifestyle choices lessens.
Our dietary choices are often one of the early options to be compromised and this can be particularly challenging for those who have chosen a veg*n diet (veg*n means vegan and/or vegetarian.)
Individuals choose veganism and vegetarianism for a number of reasons, whether it is ethical, environmental, health, or even religious. In fact, being vegan or vegetarian can often be the most powerful conviction that people hold, guiding their everyday lives, careers, and relationships.
It should also be remembered that our food and lifestyle choices can have a direct impact on preventing dementia and reversing its symptoms.
Charity Vegetarian for Life (VfL) is a UK charity working to support older vegans and vegetarians, and they have become increasingly concerned about the lack of ability for care homes to cater for veg*ns. As far as they are aware, there are only two fully vegetarian care homes in the UK, and these are offering Indian/Gujarati food.
VfL is now working hard to encourage more care homes to offer appropriate veg*n options for their residents and to help them understand the challenges they may face with dementia patients.
For example, some years ago, an older woman, who had been a dedicated animal rights campaigner, entered care after developing dementia. While in care, she was given foods containing meat products – a practice considered acceptable by staff because she ‘wouldn’t know any different’. Yet despite this, she still identified herself as vegan.
Recently, care providers have highlighted instances where a vegan/vegetarian with dementia has demanded meat or tried to take it from someone else’s plate. In such circumstances, those who care for them are faced with a difficult ethical dilemma.
Considering how we are treated and ensuring our beliefs are not compromised should we develop dementia is something we should think about NOW.
Here are Vegetarian for Life’s five ways to futureproof your veg’n diet from dementia, advice that will stand you in good stead for other areas of your life too.
1. Have a conversation about your wishes
Discuss your wishes with your care provider beforehand, preferably with friends or loved ones with you, or someone else to bear witness. Make it clear what you will and will not accept as part of your diet and lifestyle. Having this conversation ahead of time lets the carer know clearly and in no uncertain circumstances that you wish your diet to be adhered to at all times.
2. Put it in writing
To make your wishes absolutely clear, it is recommended that you make an advance statement ahead of time. This is a written statement that sets down your preferences, wishes, beliefs and values regarding your care.
Having everything written in a statement gives all parties interested in your care a clear idea of what things are important to you, even if the day comes that you can no longer express those wishes yourself.
It can include everything from how you want your beliefs to be reflected in your care, what sort of things you enjoy and do not enjoy, and concerns about practical issues, such as care for your pets. Visit Vegetarian for Life’s website for a free template.
3. Make a Lasting Power of Attorney
A Lasting Power of Attorney, or LPA, is a legal document that enables you to nominate people you trust to make decisions for you. Your nominated advocates will then be able to make decisions regarding your care and health, if you choose for them to do so.
The document gives people you trust the authority to speak up for you and enforce your choices, even when you are no longer able to do so yourself. If there were any confusion about what foods you should eat, the LPA would give your advocates the power to set things straight.
4. Carefully craft the language that you use
Straight-talking, simple language can make all the difference in times of confusion or worry. If you make your choices clear for all to see, not only does it provide unquestionable guidelines for your care providers to follow, but it also gives your advocates confidence in what they are supporting you on.
For example: “In the future, if my decision-making capacity is questionable and I appear to want meat, please consider providing me with mock meat products in their place.”
Not only does this make it clear that you do not wish to eat meat, but it affirms your commitment to that choice – even if it appears that you have changed your mind.
5. Choose your care providers ahead of time
We could find ourselves in many types of care setting in later life, from care homes and sheltered accommodation to staying at home with a visiting carer.
In cases where your shopping is done, or your meals are prepared for you, it’s comforting to know that you can trust those providers. One way to make sure is by checking the Vegetarian for Life UK List – a list of care establishments that have agreed to make a special effort to cater well for vegans and vegetarians.
An increasing number of care establishments in the UK are joining the UK List – and this can give you a good indication of whether an organisation that you have in mind is committed to catering to someone like you.
Additionally, some have also signed the Vegetarian for Life Memory Care Pledge – a specific commitment to respecting the veg*n wishes of those who are experiencing issues with capacity or cognition.
If there is a care establishment that you like that is not on the List, or has not signed the VfL Memory Care Pledge, just ask them to get in touch.
Please contact Vegetarian for Life for any further information, or any of our publications aimed at older vegans and vegetarians
Vegetarian for Life is a charity registered in England and Wales, number 1120687.