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Will I ever forget that I don’t eat meat? Five ways to future proof your vegan or vegetarian diet from dementia

Now could be the time to think about how to future proof your vegetarian and vegan diet from dementia, and ask the questions that many of us try to ignore:

1. Where will I be in older age?

2. What will happen to me should I develop cognitive impairment?

3. WillI be given meat?

Our approach to life and our cherished beliefs can often be threatened by dementia:a condition that can make it harder to think, remember, and function normally.It can mean that choices are made for us by others as we lack the capacity to look after ourselves.

Our diets are often one of the first choices to be compromised, as it becomes more difficult to cook and eat appropriately. This is particularly challenging for those who have chosen a vegan or vegetarian (veg*n) diet.

Whether it is for ethical, environmental, health, or religious reasons, veg*nism is often the most powerful conviction that people hold, guiding their everyday lives, careers, relationships and diets.

V for Life (VfL) is the UK care charity working to support older vegans and vegetarians in maintaining these convictions.

Not only is the right to be fed in line with one's philosophical beliefs fundamental, and enshrined in law, but maintaining identity supporting activities in care has been shown to improve well-being and health outcomes.

However,VfL has found that veg*n care catering is sometimes lacking. There are cases where veg*ns have been given meat because they have dementia and ‘wouldn’t know any different’. There are also instances where veggie residents with dementia have asked for meat or tried to take it from another’s plate.

What is the right thing to do here? What would you want if it were you?

VfL works hard to encourage care homes to offer a range of veggie meal options and help them understand the challenges they may face with residents living with dementia. But there are simple steps that you yourself can take too.

Here are VfL’s 5 ways to future proof your diet from dementia:

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 VfL 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 VfL’s 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 VfL’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.

For example:

“In the future, if my decision-making capacity is questionable and I appear to want meat, please consider providing me with an alternative dish that upholds my philosophical beliefs. The alternative dish might make use of alternatives to meat and/or dairy, with my caterers providing appropriate vegan fortification of dishes when needed.”

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 VfL for any further information, or take a look at our publications aimed at older vegans and vegetarians.

Vegetarian for Life (VfL), is a charity dedicated to supporting older vegans and vegetarians living in care homes as well as independently.

It publishes a popular lifestyle magazine for older vegans, and a range of glossy guides, from nutrition, through to seasonal recipes, cooking for one, and information on meal-delivery services.

V for Life runs its own veggie pen- and phone-pals scheme; provides information on the veggie-friendly care homes that it works with; and offers grants to support independent living.

Social media: Twitter @VfL_UK | Facebook /VfLUK/


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