Individuals choose veganism and vegetarianism for a number of reasons, whether that is ethical, environmental, health, or even religious.
Our approach to life and our cherished beliefs can often be threatened by Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia in the UK. This cruel illness gradually diminishes the essence of our former selves and our ability to make appropriate lifestyle choices.
Personal dietary choices may be among those compromised, which 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 that is ethical, environmental, health, or even religious. In fact, being vegan or vegetarian can be among the most powerful convictions that someone holds, guiding their everyday lives, careers, and relationships. Charity Vegetarian for Life (VfL) is a UK charity working to support older vegans and vegetarians. As far as it is aware, there are only two fully vegetarian care homes in the UK, both of them offering Indian/Gujarati menus.
VfL is now working hard to encourage more care homes to offer appropriate veg*n options for their residents, and to help homes understand the challenges of supporting those living with dementia.
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.
Here are five ways to futureproof your veg’n diet from dementia, from VfL. We hope that these tips will stand you in good stead for other areas of your life, too.
1. 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.
2. 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, your advocates would have the power to set things straight.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
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.
Please contact Vegetarian for Life for any further information, or any of our publications aimed at older vegans and vegetarians.