Placing a large fish tank in the dining area of extended-care facilities significantly increased appetite and weight gain in residents with severe dementia, who are at risk of excessive weight loss, according to a study in the current issue of Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders.
Patients with advanced dementia are often given appetite-stimulating medications to maintain a healthy weight, but they can have serious side effects.
In this 10-week study, researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, used an aquarium to stimulate the appetite of 70 people from dementia units in two North Carolina residential homes and one in Florida. The subjects included 52 women and 18 men ages 59 to 99. The aquariums, containing eight large, colorful fish, were rolled into the dining area at the evening meal. The fish were fed at the same time to increase their activity.
During the study, the residents’ daily food intake was measured by subtracting the weight of food remaining on their plates from the weight of food served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Residents’ weight at the start of the study was the average of their weight over the three previous months. They were weighed after the aquarium was introduced in the third week of the study and again after five and 10 weeks.
Residents in all three facilities increased their food consumption by approximately 6.9 ounces a day and gained an average of 2.2 pounds over the study period. The average weight of residents at the start of the study was 158.4 pounds and 160.6 pounds at the end. A weight loss of approximately 1.9 pounds was recorded in eight residents.
The fish tanks had a calming effect, allowing residents to connect with nature and focus on eating, researchers said.
Caveat: The food offered varied between facilities and the nutritional quality wasn’t assessed. Between-meal snacks weren’t recorded.