If you are a caregiver for an elderly parent or other loved one, the first thing I would like to say is ‘’hats off to you.’’ This is one of the most challenging jobs out there, and feeling fully responsible for the well-being of an aging, and perhaps, seriously ill adult can seem like an overwhelming responsibility. One particular area you may be feeling challenged is in the realm of nutrition. You may not be sure what she should be eating. Maybe she is difficult about food or her lack of appetite is interfering with proper caloric intake. While it would not be possible to cover every aspect of this important topic in one article, here are some particularly important points that may help get your loved one’s diet back on track.
Work with the Change in Senses
As people age, their sense of smell and taste can change. Elderly people tend to lose the ability to taste salty and bitter foods, meaning foods like this can taste bland and seem unpalatable. The first inclination may be to salt these things up, but this is problematic in a few different ways. First and foremost, if the elderly person has high blood pressure (which there is a good chance he does), this will only worsen the problem. Second, it can cause fluid retention, which can cause discomfort. Work on increasing flavor with healthier means such as olive oil, herbs and spices. Older people usually retain their taste of sugar much longer, and this may lead to increased cravings for unhealthy treats. Stock up on healthier sweet foods such as fruits and cookies and the like made with more natural ingredients.
Be Careful of Shake Substitutes
Loss of appetite or extreme pickiness about foods can be common among the elderly, especially if they take certain types of medications or suffer from certain types of health problems. Nutritional shakes are often a first line of defense since they are easy to get down and contain protein and other nutrients. But, many doctors warn about becoming overly reliant on these drinks. They are not intended to be a main source of calories. It is important that your loved one is getting most of his calories from regular food and that these drinks are used as complements, not main meals on a regular basis.
If lack of appetite is becoming a significant issue with your loved one, it is important to see a doctor. The person may have developed a new health problem or it is possible that the doctor can do something, such as change a medication.
Following the General Nutritional Guidelines is Not Always a Good Idea
Naturally, you want your loved one to eat a healthful diet that will support his body and hopefully improve quality of life. But, the idea that an elderly person, especially one that is frail, should be consuming the same low-fat, low-calorie diet of a healthy adult is not really accurate. At this stage, it is vital to stave off excessive weight loss, and you want to get those calories in any way you can. If weight loss is a problem, you should let the person eat what they want. At this stage, getting calories in any form is the name of the game. If he wants a bowl of ice cream instead of a plate of steamed organic broccoli, let him have it.
As a caregiver, it is important to you to make sure you are doing the best you can; care for the elderly is challenging and food challenges can be the most difficult of all. But, with some willingness to experiment with different strategies, and perhaps letting go of some preconceived notions about how the person should eat, you can find a way to reduce the difficulty.
About the Author: Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who blogs about a variety of topics related to elder care.