Everybody needs to eat! If you’re a caregiver for an elderly parent or other loved one who isn’t eating like they should, we understand your frustration. Below, you’ll find some tips you can try to get your senior to eat more, or at least get more of the high-nutrition calories their body requires.
Understanding the Problem
Before you can choose techniques to encourage eating that will be effective, you need to know why your senior is hesitant or refuses to eat. What could be the problem?
Aging. Seriously, as we get older, our taste buds lose their power to detect flavors. Maybe food simply tastes “blah” to your senior. Besides, elders don’t need as many calories, especially if their lifestyle is mostly sedentary, as younger people.
Medications. Many meds that seniors take can cause dry mouth or make certain foods taste off.
Dental problems. Pain from poorly-fitting dentures, gum disease or tooth problems would make anyone avoid chewing. And seniors are more susceptible to cavities than younger adults. Make sure your senior visits the dentist regularly.
Physical impairment. Arthritis can make it painful or impossible to hold and use dining utensils, let alone manage sharp knives and heavy pots and pans in the kitchen.
Depression. Depression can cause appetite loss, and one of the most common sources of depression in seniors is loneliness. Eating alone all the time can lead to a “why bother” attitude toward food.
Tips to motivate reluctant eaters
1. Encourage snacking instead of traditional large meals three times a day. Smaller servings are less intimidating, so they look more “doable.” Being able to choose which snacks to eat when helps bolster feelings of control and independence. And if your loved one actually wants seconds, the food is there when they want it.
2. Focus on foods that are easy to eat. Think finger foods -- chicken or fish strips, cut up veggies and fruit (perhaps with a tasty dipping sauce), bite-size meatballs or cheese cubes, crackers with peanut butter, etc.
3. Encourage drinking water throughout the day. This supports crucial hydration and can reduce problems associated with dry mouth. Sugar-free water flavoring products can make water more appealing.
4. Boost the flavor! Increase seasonings to counteract dulled taste buds. This can also help “correct” medication-caused flavor problems.
5. If meat tastes metallic, serve more protein alternatives such as dairy foods or beans.
6. Serve nutrition-packed milkshakes or smoothies – no chewing required! Serve easy-to-chew foods such as pasta and soups enhanced with pureed veggies or even meat.
7. Prep food they can easily cook themselves. Keep your foodie senior engaged (and eating right) by doing the prep work for them. Pre-cut meat, veggies, etc. and pre-measure other ingredients, then package them into serving-size containers so all your loved one has to do is the final assembly.
8. Sit down to eat with them, so it becomes a social event. Set the table so it looks inviting.
9. Serve beer or wine to kick-start their appetite. Yes, a bit of alcohol before eating can, in fact, stimulate appetite. (Make sure this doesn’t go against doctor’s orders, though.)
Remember, the Goal Is Adequate Nutrition
It’s not how much your senior eats, but what. Focusing on lean meats, fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products will help maintain their strength and a healthy weight, and improve wound healing.
Don’t give up! Talk to your senior about why they aren’t eating as well as you think they should. And take notes on what seems to be working when it comes to specific foods, serving options, or timing, then do more of that.
If it’s time to talk about retirement care for you or a loved one, contact us at 1-855-540-LIFE (5433).