Vegetarian for Life

5. Reassurance for residents #DementiaActionWeek

Posted by Amanda on 16/05/24 in Articles, Life After Retirement

This week, we delved into the stories of Serena and Oscar, two ethical vegans navigating dementia in care. Serena, a former Vice President of The Vegan Society, was eventually able to resume her vegan lifestyle, while Oscar faced a controversial decision by the Swedish Ethics Committee to introduce meat into his diet. Moral philosophers Drs. Lavazza and Reichlin shed light on the complexities surrounding these cases.

Today, we present VfL's perspective and practical steps to support those in your care.

Veganism* and vegetarianism extend beyond diet, embodying lifestyle choices safeguarded by law. As more individuals embrace these beliefs, ensuring their dietary preferences are honoured becomes paramount, particularly in care environments.

For older vegans and vegetarians, concerns about autonomy in care settings loom large. Quotes from individuals like Alan highlight the challenges they face in maintaining their convictions amid cognitive decline.

I have a friend who is 76 years old and has been a vegan for ethical reasons for almost her entire adult life. Last year she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and went into a care home. I made sure that the home understood the importance of her veganism and would provide vegan food for her at all times. This they have done and although most of what they served was hardly gourmet food it satisfied her.

"Recently, as her condition deteriorates, she has been demanding to have what she sees other, non-vegan, people eating. The home felt it had no choice but to accede to her requests. As a long-term vegan myself I was very disappointed about this because I've known her for 30 years and know just how strong her beliefs were.

Others have told us:

"I think if I were to get dementia and obviously you regress, and I worry that I'd regress to a time that I ate meat."  

"Sometimes I think what would happen if you do end up having to go into a home or something like that, or if you ended up having dementia… how can you be 100% sure that people the place where you are will actually cater for your needs."

"My concern would be… and I hope this never happens that I go into a care home, and I'm fed meat, and if you know if I have dementia or something like that… that's my only concern."

"It's just situations where you lose your autonomy, really. So… you could make legal provisions so that you… can only do so much to make sure your wishes are known."

"What about opening dedicated vegetarian and vegan care homes? I mean, is that something that they could do?"

A report by Alzheimer’s Society found that 70% of people in UK care homes are living with dementia or severe memory issues. While the debate over prioritising current preferences versus prior convictions persists, it's crucial to recognise the significance of deeply held beliefs, like veganism, in one's identity.

Though the impact of dietary practices on identity formation in older age remains unclear, VfL advocates for preserving access to ethical dietary choices.

While some argue that taste changes in people with dementia justify deviating from their prior convictions, it's essential to recognise that deeply held beliefs like veganism are not merely about taste preferences. These choices often stem from strong convictions and are made despite more appealing options, highlighting their significance beyond mere flavour preferences.

VfL has been asked over the years about the possibility of running dedicated veg*n care homes. You can read our thoughts about this in the following blog. For now, we’re only aware of three fully vegetarian care homes in the UK, two of them offering Indian/Gujarati menus. While dedicated veg*n care homes are scarce, VfL's Memory Care Pledge ensures individuals with capacity issues receive meals aligned with their ethical beliefs.

The Memory Care Pledge has already been taken by hundreds of care homes up and down the UK, to help ensure that vegans or vegetarians who have capacity issues, or cognitive losses, will be offered a choice of meals, drinks and snacks that uphold their ethical beliefs.

We hope that more and more carers will join us in advocating for compassionate care that respects the dignity and autonomy of all individuals, regardless of their dietary choices.

Other resources from Vegetarian for Life

Talking Mats

Talking Mats is an innovative communication tool designed by Speech and Language Therapists. It’s based on extensive research and helps people express their views visually. Recently, VfL developed a set of Talking Mats specifically for carers of older vegans and vegetarians. These mats focus on food-related topics and use specially designed symbols.

Dr Kim Stringer, VfL Director (Scotland) said: “I first had a Talking Mat conversation at the Alzheimer Scotland conference in 2019 and was struck by the way a picture of my likes and dislikes emerged. I wouldn’t have collected all these ideas together in a spoken conversation and I immediately thought this would be a great tool to use to explore an issue that VfL was becoming increasingly aware of.  

“VfL supports older vegans and vegetarians, and those who care for them, and we had been hearing about some vegetarians with dementia who were asking for meat. It seemed unlikely to us that people who had chosen to be vegan or vegetarian because of their beliefs would suddenly reconsider these views.  Staff and families were facing a dilemma and I thought Talking Mats would be a great tool to explore food preferences and perhaps help to find out if a person was genuinely asking for meat.”

Read more about the new resource here.

Vegan & Vegetarian Care Home Menu Book

This vegan and vegetarian care home menu book was inspired by a similar product, created to assist people in the care sector to communicate with their residents. The book is designed to help residents to express their menu preferences if communication is a challenge.

By being able to point at dishes, residents can make clear choices about their meal selection and have more control over what they are eating.

With an estimated 14% of vegans and vegetarians in Great Britain aged 65 or older, and a 40% increase in the number of UK vegans since 2020, we felt the need for a specific vegan- and vegetarian-only guide. Those following special diets who may struggle to express their food preferences should be given just as much choice as those following a ‘regular’ diet.

We are thrilled, therefore, to launch this exclusively vegan and vegetarian guide. Our guide has seven sections, covering Drinks, Breakfast, Lighter Meals, Snacks/Afternoon Tea, Dinner, Puddings, and Regional/Celebration Meals.

Order here.

*Veganism is a "philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment" (The Vegan Society, 2022).


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