Caregivers Struggle to feed Reluctant Seniors

I had a caregiver call me and ask, “How do I get my client to eat more?”  So I thought this was a great post to share with other caregivers who might be struggling with the same thing…There are many reasons why some older adults lose their appetite or refuse to eat. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re worried about them and are doing your best to give them the nutrition they need.  Many older adults struggle during mealtimes or simply refuse to eat because they’ve lost their appetite.Here are some great idea’s you might want to try:  

Increase nutrient density, not portion size.

Caregivers shouldn’t increase the volume of food they serve to seniors who may have low appetites, Rather, increase the nutrient density of the foods they serve.  Don’t intimidate them with a huge helping, in other words — but you can often add healthy extra calories in the form of an avocado, olive oil, finely chopped meat, soft cheeses like ricotta/mascarpone, eggs or a little peanut butter.  To save time, you can still cook food in larger batches, just store is in smaller individual containers and freeze. Have a regular meal and snack schedule“Our bodies tend to thrive off regularity, as do our hunger and thirst signals, so when we stray from our usual patterns, so does our appetite,” says Schwartz. She suggests starting slowly, adding a small beverage and/or snack during a normal meal time. This can help get the body’s hunger signals get going again.  Having a regular daily routine and serving food at roughly the same times every day helps their body be ready to eat at those times. Don’t rely on your older adult’s ability to feel their hunger (it declines with age) before giving them food. Try 5 small meals/snacks a day instead of 3 larger one. Stop using utensilsThe frustration of not being able to use a spoon, fork, or knife could make some older adults not want to eat at all. To  help them eat more easily, serve foods that can be eaten without any utensils.Some suggestions:

  • Chicken strips or nuggets
  • Fish sticks
  • Steamed or raw veggies like carrots, broccoli, bell pepper strips, or cucumber pieces
  • Meatballs

4. Have plenty of easy-to-eat snacks on handSome seniors prefer to graze throughout the day rather than eat full meals. That’s ok too. Keep plenty of healthy, delicious, and easy-to-eat snacks available.  Unless your older adult has specific health issues, don’t worry too much about fat or cholesterol. After all, the challenge is to get enough calories into them.Some suggestions:

  • Cheese sticks or string cheese
  • Full-fat yogurt
  • Diced fruit, fresh or packaged
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Full-fat cottage cheese
  • Whole chocolate milk

Make milkshakes or smoothiesIf chewing is difficult or tiring, even with small pieces of food, consider serving more liquid-y foods.Some suggestions:

  • Nutritious soups – enhanced with cream, olive oil, or pureed meats and veggies
  • Healthy smoothies – add bananas, fruit, full-fat yogurt, or veggies like carrots and spinach
  • Hot cocoa
  • Full-fat milk
  • Milkshakes – good quality ice cream is better than eating nothing!

Warning: This is not a solution for those with dysphagia (swallowing problems). Keep track of what worksTake notes so you can keep track of what foods your client enjoys, what they don’t like, and what might be upsetting their stomach. You can also track what times of day they’re more willing to eat or when they have a better appetite.  Keeping track lets you experiment more with things that are working and avoid the things that aren’t.

Bottom line

Getting seniors who have no appetite to eat is a big challenge. Be patient, be creative, keep experimenting, and don’t get discouraged. Most of all, don’t take their refusal to eat personally. Remember, they’re not rejecting you as a person. Watch for my next blog under the  Recipe Friday with some great recipe’s that may help. 

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