You stopped by to visit mom recently and suspected that something wasn't right. She’s been living alone for a while now. Dad died a few years ago but she seemed to bounce back from that pretty well. You stop in to visit from time to time, just to help out when, but she seems pretty independent most of the time. But lately something is different. You just can't get mom to eat right. You've noticed that breakfast is still on the table and it’s 4 in the afternoon. Her water glass is still full, and she’s still in her robe. She’s crabby, and complaining about things in a random way, not really making a lot of sense. These are all common signs of a loss of thirst and appetite that is common among many seniors.
These bad eating habits can manifest in some very unpleasant ways: mood swings, fatigue, cognitive issues such as memory loss and poor judgement, weakness, poor balance, vertigo…all kinds of dangerous and uncomfortable issues. Often, getting the aging parent to eat or drink can have very immediate and encouraging results.
This all actually happened to my wife and I recently with our own mom. On one visit she was anxious, rambling, and complaining of not feeling well. Her symptoms included headache, confusion, sadness, dizziness, and nervousness. When we looked at the table we saw her water glass was full, and sitting next to it was her un-eaten breakfast. When we asked her when was the last time she had something to eat or drink she replied: “oh, I can’t be bothered with that, I have too much to do right now,” and she puttered off in her robe and slipper as if she had some urgent task to perform.
We talked to the in home caregiver and had a conference. We learned that meals and water had been supplied regularly, but mom was refusing them. So we came up with a plan. The in home care aide began preparing smaller snacks, and placing them in front of mom more often. A daily dose of water or healthy drinks was prepared each morning, and the caregiver was to put these in front of mom on a regular basis. The caregiver was to document the total amount of food and drink each day, and record it in a log. We review the log regularly, which help us make adjustments and come up with different strategies to keep mom eating and drinking.
Here are some of the things we learned to do when you can't get mom to eat right, that dramatically improved mom’s health and quality of life:
- Plan lots of small snacks: find out what she really likes and prepare small portions of it.
- Place food in front of her regularly, throughout the day, don’t just wait till meal time.
- Do the same with glasses of water or her favorite healthy drink. Don’t let them take too much in the way of sugary drinks, coffee or tea, as these can actually be dehydrating.
- Eat together: this can be tough, as mom or dad may know that this is going to lead to them having to eat or drink, but remind them that you enjoy their company, and want to hear about their day.
- Constantly re-focus the senior on the meal or drink in front of them.
- Going for a short walk, or some form of light exercise often stimulates appetite. Too much exercise can have the opposite effect.
- Don’t be afraid to offer a desert food first. A few small bites can remind mom or dad that food and water can actually be enjoyable
Working with an in home caregiver can be extremely beneficial implementing and maintaining these strategies, especially if your time is limited by your career and other family obligations.