Let’s face it. There are times when all of us skip a meal for one reason or another. For many seniors, however, skipping meals and improper nutrition are the norm rather than the exception.
My mom’s favorite saying when asked what she ate during the day is: “I improvised”. Typically that means she had a glass of milk and two bananas — you know, breakfast of champions.
It is helpful for caregivers to understand some common reasons behind this phenomenon in order to come up with solutions for their loved one’s particular situation.
Depression. Many seniors struggle with the loss of a spouse or friends, the aging process in general and a lack of purpose. When you feel down, do you feel hungry? Not usually.
Isolation. Elders are often less mobile, both physically and with respect to transportation. Grocery shopping can become difficult as it involves driving, lifting bags, seeing well, and the ability to manage money. Plus, the prospect of eating alone may seem like an event worth skipping.
Lack of interest in cooking. Eating is a social activity, so it may not seem quite as fun to cook for only ourselves. Cooking may also be more physically and mentally challenging than in earlier years. The mother of a friend of mine was well-reputed as a fantastic, Southern cook. She made all her meals without a recipe — until one recent Thanksgiving when she was asked to start the turkey, as she had done for many years. She looked at her family blankly and asked them for a recipe.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s. An elder parent may simply forget to eat due to one of these conditions.
Dental problems may create an aversion to eating. Cavities, poor-fitting dentures or missing teeth may actually make eating a painful process.
Medication side effects. Some medications are known to affect appetite, so your loved one may not feel like eating. Confirm with their doctor.
So what are some strategies to avoid the “cereal syndrome” and ensure that your loved one is receiving proper nutrition?
Rediscover their favorite comfort foods that bring back happy memories from their past, perhaps from their childhood or country of origin. Serve meals and snacks at consistent times to build a routine. Allow plenty of time for meals so the care receiver doesn’t feel rushed.
Remember, eating is most enjoyable when done together, so try sitting down and eating with your senior, even if you just have a cup of tea. The process of eating together may just as healing as the food itself!
Here at The Peninsula, we offer three meals a day in a restaurant-style setting where seniors can socialize. Please call us if we can answer any questions you have on this topic.