When I first met my husband’s beloved grandmother, Kate, I was charmed by her spunky sense of humor and surprised at how tiny she was. I had seen photos from her prime years, of a statuesque woman. Over the next few days of our visit, I saw her eat so little, I was amazed she could keep going. My youthful inexperience (and bluntness) led me to poke my nose in—I asked Grandpa Del why he did not buy her real food, instead of the sweet rolls she ate at most meals. I did not understand why he could not see she was too thin and why he did not make her eat. This kind and wise man ignored my rudeness and told me she would not eat anything else.
Both family and professional caregivers often struggle with their care recipient’s eating issues. Many factors can suppress a senior’s appetite. Medication is often at fault, affecting the taste of food, feelings of hunger and digestion. Sometimes physical conditions bring on problems with food; cancer, gastrointestinal problems, or thyroid disorders may be at fault. Even depression and Alzheimer’s can affect appetite, as a person may lose interest in food, or be unable to remember if they have eaten. The result is the same: a person appears to be “wasting-away.” This syndrome is actually called Cachexia Anorexia, as reported in Today’s Caregiver Magazine.
Nutrition is a central part of a person’s ability to live a healthy life, even if one has a chronic health condition, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. If you are caring for someone who has a diminished appetite, here are a few ideas to try, in conjunction with professional advice from a doctor.
- Offer 5-6 small meals of appetizing, tasty food daily. Avoid bland and sour foods and huge, plates heaped with food. Someone struggling to eat can be overwhelmed with a large volume of food.
- Eat together and chat about whatever subjects of interest, but not about how one person is not eating enough, or properly. Distraction is key here.
- Offer lots of hydration during the day. Sometimes dehydration suppresses appetite. Mock-tails of club soda and juice are a good choice if water or flavored waters are turned down.
- Serve easy to eat, soft foods, such as pudding, ice cream or fruit smoothies. These can be sprinkled or blended with 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds to give them an Omega-3 fatty acid boost.
- Plan the meal together; give control to the person with the eating trouble.
- Encourage as much physical activity as possible since it stimulates the appetite. Chair yoga, and other chair exercises, folding laundry, and peeling vegetables are all good options for people with mobility limitations.
- Keep a food diary so you can discuss actual behavior and patterns with your loved one’s doctor. As well as meal times, food items and estimated quantities consumed, record reactions to food, both physical and behavioral.
Seniors should maintain a healthy weight relative to their height and bone structure. A doctor can detect problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and if necessary, refer your loved one to a specialist for more serious issues like cancer, depression, thyroid disorders or diabetes.
Lee Nyberg writes about issues for senior health and happy longevity, reaching out to families and caregivers everywhere. Her company, Home Care Assistance of Nebraska, provides independence, dignity, control and peace of mind to seniors who want to live at home throughout the aging process.