As individuals age, it is common for their diets to change. They may no longer be able to tolerate fried or fatty foods, or they may develop lactose intolerance. They may have fewer teeth or less strength and energy for chewing certain foods. They may wear dentures, require adaptive silverware, or wear a bib for frequent spills. Their diet may be modified for medical reasons, ranging from a low fat diet to a pureed diet due to swallowing difficulties. Shopping for and preparing food may also become difficult. Consequently, our loved ones’ diets, along with their desire to eat, may ebb. Mealtime, which was once approached with gusto, can become just another chore.
But, food is a vital component of daily life. Besides providing necessary nutrition, food represents love, comfort, and security. It is indelibly linked to memories with friends and family, as well as religious, ethnic, and cultural traditions. As your loved one ages, how can you help to maintain the pleasure associated with mealtime, despite the various challenges? How can you help them to continue to dine with dignity and pleasure?
Consider the following strategies:
- If friends or family ask if they can do anything to help, reply specifically. Keep a few copies of your loved one’s diet handy to give to people who want to prepare a dish or meal. If your loved one has a favorite food that is medically approved, request it. The benefits of accepting such valuable help are three-fold: you get much-needed respite, the friend or family member feels like they can contribute, and your loved one gets a great meal!
- Whenever you are going to the grocery store, ask your loved one if there is anything special you can buy for them. They are more likely to eat something they really want.
- If your loved one requires soft, ground, or pureed foods, be sure to consult one of the increasing number of cookbooks available. Many have been developed by nutritionists to help you meet your loved one’s dietary needs.
- If your loved one still lives independently, make a gift basket with nutritious, easy-to-prepare items such as tuna, peanut butter, whole wheat crackers, whole wheat pasta and sauce, cheese, dried fruit, herbal teas, and bottled sparkling water.
- If your loved one is seldom hungry or has a poor appetite, talk to his or her health care provider to see if any changes in medication may help enhance appetite. Certain medications can reduce appetite, cause nausea, or make food taste differently. Sudden changes in appetite may also be a sign of depression or other mental health concerns.
- Help your loved one to create a pleasant atmosphere at mealtime, with the company of family whenever possible. Simple things, such as calming music, fresh flowers, the use of fresh herbs, and a variety of color may enhance appetite and pleasure.
Depending on your situation, one or all of these tips may make a difference in the quality of life and nutritional intake of your loved one. Planning ahead, educating yourself, and being aware of your options are vital to improving outcome. Be sure to research your options in all areas, including long-term care insurance, which may increase options and quality of care for your loved one.