Making sure a senior or someone gravely ill gets the needed nutrients each day can be a great challenge. With age comes decreased appetite, depression, stress, anxieties of daily living; and it all plays a roll in causing your loved one to avoid eating. For those who face terminal illness, all the more reason they have to avoid eating altogether.
However, there are things that can be done to help, and give encouragement to them so they can enjoy the mealtime, and promote a desire to eat.
Offer high caloric drink foods such as ice cream, milk shakes, or eggnog. Offer familiar foods. Favorite foods can stimulate the appetite. Try making the main meal of the day at lunch when the appetite is larger. If the person needs assistance in eating, sit directly in front of them and show each spoonful to help them orient.
I found when I was caring for my mother as she grew weaker, and lost her appetite that there were certain things that I could do to help her maintain a sense of identity, and control over her decisions; which is very important to their well-being. At mealtime I’d place the best and sweetest red seedless grapes I could find on her plate, and allow her to pick one up herself with her fingers and nibble at them even while she ate her main courses; most of the time she would end up finishing her entire meal, chatting with me about daily stuff, and picking up one of the grapes and helping herself. She also liked banana, pear, and peaches when they were sweet; so I’d make sure there was a small amount of one of these on her plate at each meal. It helped a great deal in getting her to eat, and it was good for her in many ways.
The atmosphere in the home or their residence is very important, but often overlooked. If they enjoy a certain type of music, play some of their favorites during mealtime; encourage them by asking them if they remember when they first heard the song, and what they think of it, or what memories it brings to them. If they like a certain TV show, see if it helps to have it on while your helping them eat; it may be helpful to bring their spirits up, and promote their appetite. If there is a lot of tension, or stress in the environment they are living in; this will play a great role in their outlook, and their well-being.
Allow time between bites and check mouth periodically for food in the cheek. You may need to remind the person to swallow. Gently stroking the throat will help to stimulate swallowing. Observe what food textures cause the most difficulty. Liquids can be thickened with gelatin or applesauce. Solids can be moistened or pureed for easier swallowing. In some cases, using a straw may be the best approach. If they are very weak, and have trouble sitting up on their own. If they give signs of resistance; let them have a few minutes, and try again. Please use love, and patience. If they continue to resist; do not continue to force them to the point of causing them to become angry, or resentful. You will only have a more difficult situation next time. Treat them with the same dignity you would want to be treated with.
Keep a food diary to enhance nutrition dialogue with the person’s doctor. Include what foods they have problems or complications digesting and record their daily food menus. Review it with their doctor or dietician for feedback. They may be experiencing digestive problems or irritable bowl syndrome due to their menu. If they are not having regular bowel movements, this is an indication that there is indeed digestive problems. Try to encourage more liquids, sips of juices thru a straw through out the day may help promote more regular bowel movements.
Presentation is key so serve appetizing looking meals by accenting plates with a garnish (i.e. strawberry, coconut flakes or melon). Talking about the day’s events while they are eating can help take their minds off not feeling well. Don’t be concerned if they reach with their hands to the “goodies” first, let them pick what they want, and continue to feed them the veggies and main part of the meal along with what they are helping themselves to; it doesn’t hurt anything, and you will be surprised that they very well may end up eating their entire meal, by just being willing to let them make these small expressions of independence. It’s much more important to them than we realize.