Why Isn't My Loved One Eating?
One of the most vexing questions in elder caregiving is “Why isn’t my loved one eating?” Your loved one’s well-being is heavily dependent on nutrition, so a refusal or the inability to eat is frustrating and stressful for the caregiver.
Here are some thoughts on causes and ideas about solutions:
PROBLEM: Lack of desire to prepare meals
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS: There are many ways to provide “prepared” meals… You or someone else does the cooking and puts the meals, (ready to heat-up) in the fridge. Services such as Meals on Wheels can help, but usually only with one meal a day. Those are sufficiently large to provide a days’ worth of nutrition for one person. You can also set up meal delivery from your loved one’s favorite restaurants.
PROBLEM: Disinterest in eating
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS: Find out what the source problem is. Nausea from medications or chemo, dry mouth, problems with teeth or dentures can cause a lack of desire to eat. Check the setting—is it pleasant or dreary? What about the way the food is presented—is it appetizing? What does it smell like? Think of how unappetizing your old school cafeteria food was, and recall that smell. Portion size can also cause disinterest in eating.
If you’re struggling to eat and you’re given what looks like a mountain of food, then your appetite is likely to disappear. Keep portions small. If necessary, only put one item of food at a time on the plate. Use plates with plain backgrounds. For some folks, the busy background of the plate can be confusing and make the food hard to find.
PROBLEM: Your loved wants to eat the same thing over and over again
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS: If your patient only wants to eat ice cream, for instance, vary it and boost up the nutritional value by adding protein powder and fresh fruit. Make smoothies and milk shakes. Variations on the theme of the one food will help you add nutrition, be it a sandwich—add cheese to meat for a double-up on protein or lots of veggies if they’re missing—pizza or fish and chips (think tempura veggies along with the fried fish and potatoes). Caregivers for elderly patients need to keep a perspective about what’s being eaten. As parents of small children we worried about serving balanced meals, but with the elderly this may not be so important—they are not fueling growing bodies. A diet of ice cream, if that’s all they want at age 95 may not be all that problematic.
Finally a couple of questions to pose to your loved one when eating has become an issue: “What do you want to eat? “ Whatever that may be, serve it, but keep portions small. “What’s your favorite meal of the day?” Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner (or something in between), make that the big meal of the day, and don’t worry too much about what they eat the rest of the time.
Healthy Food That's Fun To Eat
One leg of the “self-care trinity” for caregivers is healthy eating. I don’t know about you, but the combination of those two words makes me think about “sticks and berries” (in other words… food that’s not fun to eat). Let's talk about Caregiving and Nutrition.
I've got good news for you caregivers: I've discovered some fun food that can help keep you at your best so you can offer your highest level of care!
- Fruity cocktails may actually be good for us. According to Woman’s Day magazine, research shows that alcohol can increase the level of antioxidants in certain fruits, such as strawberries. That means one strawberry daiquiri or margarita has health benefits, along with tasting good.
- Pizza can be healthy provided you make some changes in preparation: use a whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese (in moderation). Skip the meats, especially the high fat ones like pepperoni and sausage, and pile on the veggies.
- Fruit juice can be healthy as long as it’s 100% fruit juice. Orange juice, especially, has plenty of fiber and antioxidants. Some research has shown that daily consumption of 6 to 8 ounces can lower Alzheimer’s risk by as much as 76%… But that’s not a direct correlation. It’s dependant on other factors as well, the most important one being age.
- For women, red wine and dark chocolate are heart-healthy foods, provided they’re eaten in moderation. One small chocolate (not a box of them) and a glass of red wine can actually have health benefits. Gentlemen, it’s also been found that a wee bit o dark chocolate is good for your hearts, too.
Moderation and Balance are Key Components of any Healthy Eating Plan – Joanne Reynolds
And that brings me to the closing thought about caregiving and nutrition: It’s about moderation. TOO MUCH OF ANY ONE THING, whether it’s toffee or tofu, isn't going to be good for you. Moderation and balance are key components of any healthy eating plan. Remember that the goal is to fuel your body well to keep you strong for your caregiving assignment.