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Fresh breakfast solution for patients with dementia and difficulties swallowing

Duration of this project: September 2013 - 31 August 2014

Through the Topshake project, nutritional company Tops Foods, expertise centre Mobilab (Thomas More) and Lab4Food (KU Leuven) developed an innovative, fresh and industrially prepared breakfast for dementia patients who have difficulties swallowing.

LiCalab tested the Topshake extensively with people suffering from advanced dementia, in order to align the innovative Topshake formula even more closely to the needs of care dependants and carers. The Topshake was developed in five flavours.

Adapted texture and composition for higher nutrient intake
A preliminary study (De Maesschalck, Mobilab and Claes et al, Lab4Food) show that a balanced composition and the specific viscosity of a fresh breakfast shake result in higher nutrient intake. This greatly improves the patients' quality of life. During the preliminary study, the breakfast shake was prepared manually. However, industrial preparation was required in order to make the product available to a large number of patients. LiCalab put the researchers in contact with Tops Foods. This food company has a worldwide patented microwave technology which enables food to be kept fresh for up to 14 days.

Co-creation and testing with healthcare providers and patients
The objective was to refine the recipes from the preliminary study for an industrial production process and test whether the new recipes would yield the same positive results on nutrient intake and swallowing behaviour. During a co-creation session, hospital representatives, residential care centres, pharmacists and home care organisations tested the added value of the Topshake product for the healthcare market. LiCalab organised a 4-week test in which 85 dementia patients with difficulties swallowing from 12 residential care centres participated. We measured their nutrient intake on weekdays and monitored their swallowing behaviour. In the first and third week, the patients were fed a normal breakfast of sandwiches. In the second and fourth week they had the shake. Through a wide survey of residential care centres, we researched how Top Foods would be best able to market the new product (e.g. distribution channels and pricing).

Higher nutrient intake and increased comfort for carers
The test yielded highly positive results. Compared to a normal breakfast, the Topshake is more comfortable for patients and their average nutrient intake is increased by 10%. The carers were also excited about the results. Improved swallowing means quicker food intake, which in turn increases the comfort for carers. Lastly, the meal supervisor would gain 3 minutes per meal on average.

A new market segment for Tops Foods
Top Foods' main activity is developing and producing ready-made meals with microwave technology, especially for the private labels of European supermarket chains. With this new product, Tops is looking for a potential spin-out. By working together with LiCalab, Mobilab and Lab4Food, and with the financial support from IWT, this project opens doors to a new market: the health and care sector. They are looking into whether other patient groups (after a stroke, Parkinson's) can also benefit from new food concepts.

LiCalab organised:

  • tests in 12 residential care centres with 85 dementia patients who have difficulties swallowing
  • market research survey in residential care centres
  • business modelling session


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