Could memory-based theatre therapy help prevent undernutrition in older adults?

A new Loughborough University research programme will examine if a type of memory-based theatre therapy can be used to prevent and treat undernutrition in care home residents.

Dementia and other age-related physiological and psychological changes increase the risk of older adults developing undernutrition, which can lead to physical weakness and an increased risk of falls and mortality.

Existing research to tackle the issue of undernutrition in this population has largely focused on the optimal type, timing and amount of energy and nutrient intake for older adults. However, there is limited work investigating psychosocial interventions.

This new research, funded by the Rosetrees Trust and the Stoneygate Trust, will trial the use of an applied theatre technique, Reminiscence Theatre, to stimulate appetite, food intake and the enjoyment of eating for care home residents. The research project is entitled ‘CURTAIN: the Clinical Use of Reminiscence Theatre with older Adults to Improve Nutrition in care homes’.

In Reminiscence Theatre, a theatre practitioner co-develops a theatrical performance based on the positive memories the older adults have of eating and drinking. This is then performed to them in a bid to improve their interest in and engagement with mealtimes.

The technique has already been used clinically with dementia patients in residential care, where engagement with Reminiscence Theatre showed an increase in social interaction and the ability to generate and relocate memories.

Speaking about the research, lead academic Dr Chris McLeod from the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, said: “Reminiscence Theatre is about utilising the power of real-life stories and memories to create a positive reaction. Our initial study in this programme will assess three key areas of our food-focussed Reminiscence Theatre intervention: did residents enjoy the sessions, did their engagement stimulate appetite and food intake at a subsequent meal compared to a regular social activity, and were the Reminiscence Theatre processes acceptable to care-home staff.

“We are excited to undertake this novel and multi-disciplinary research programme to see if Reminiscence Theatre has the potential to improve the nutrition and wellbeing of older adults.”

The research is due to start in March 2023 and will run for 12 months. It is being led by Dr McLeod, an expert in behavioural nutrition and public health, working with Dr Catherine Rees, a Senior Lecturer in Drama, and Dr David Maidment, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology.