Tips to Take the Stress Out of Mealtime
Getting an older adult to eat can sometimes feel like dealing with a toddler. They might show little interest in food, either refusing to eat or eating very little. A lack of appetite in seniors can be annoying, but it also can be dangerous.
Malnutrition affects millions of seniors and can lead to increased risk of infection, fatigue, weight loss, and other health problems. Even at its earliest stages, malnutrition can leave a senior feeling sluggish and unhappy. And that’s reason enough to find a solution to the problem.
Lack of appetite in seniors can be blamed on many factors, from dental problems that make chewing painful to side effects of medication. Other possible causes include depression, dementia and the simple fact that older people often lose their sense of taste, making food boring and unenjoyable.
The cause also might not be physical at all.
Eating alone isn’t much fun, and neither is cooking for yourself. Seniors who spent a lifetime preparing food for their family might feel sad and especially lonely when mealtime comes around. In this case, there are things that a loved one or caregiver can do to help make mealtime more pleasant and satisfying.
Here are a just a few tricks to try:
Set the Mood
If eating is a chore for your loved one, take simple steps to improve the mealtime atmosphere. Set an attractive table and get rid of distractions like the television. Instead, play some soft music. Whenever possible, share the meal with your loved one. A table for two is always more enjoyable than a table for one.
Keep a Schedule
Set regular times for meals and snacks. Older adults often don’t feel hunger and thirst like they did when they were younger, but by making eating part of the daily routine, they, and their bodies, are likely to pick up on the habit.
Give in to Cravings
A schedule is a good idea, but be ready to break it if hunger strikes. If the person you are caring for suddenly has the desire to eat, indulge them. Just be sure to take full advantage of this opportunity by choosing something nutritious.
Many older adults are overwhelmed by the sight of a plate full of food. Rather than tackle a heaping portion, they would rather give in before they start. Instead of a big meal, try serving several smaller meals throughout the day.
One of the many effects of dehydration is lack of appetite. Be sure the senior in your care is drinking plenty of fluid between meals, but avoid too much liquid just before or during a meal. A big glass of water just before eating can make the person feel full.
A small glass of wine or beer before a meal can help to stimulate a person’s appetite. A pre-dinner drink also can help to create a calm, relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy a meal. Just be sure that alcohol won’t interfere with any medications before offering a pre-dinner libation.