Q: How can I get my elderly father to stop eating everything? His doctor isn’t helping me!
A: Oh my gosh, I totally know the frustration you are going through—I had the same problem with my father. I fed him well and kept all kinds of healthy snacks available, but he'd still say he was "starving to death" all the time. Compounding the problem was that my mother was terribly underweight from being so ill, yet she wouldn't eat—clenching her teeth and telling me she was going to get fat! So, I had a mother too thin, a father too fat, and me going goofy because all the high-calorie foods I'd buy to help her—just ended up in him!
I'm sure you have already tried hiding the higher calorie foods. I know, I know. Whenever I tried to hide food from Dad, in the middle of the night he'd get up and tear the house apart until he found it. He'd even drink the Ensure-Plus that I bought for Mom to add 365 calories to her meals. One time I caught him guzzling down two of them—one in each fist! I finally had to create a mini kitchen/pantry in the back bedroom closet with a deadbolt on it. With the help of a mini refrigerator, I was able to keep some food out of sight and out of his reach.
I just couldn't believe that none of the professionals I turned to had the answers and even his doctor didn't offer any solutions or empathy. She said, "Just let him eat, so what?" I thought, oh yeah, we don't need to have to buy all new clothes and have him have a heart attack now on top of everything else. Ugh!
Well, finally, I started to get help when I found a wonderful Geriatrician (an MD with a specialty in geriatrics) who carefully evaluated and then modified some of my father's many medications. Apparently, some had been increasing his appetite! He also prescribed an anti-depressant, which helped smooth out his moods and anxiety. He also instructed me to feed him more lean protein and to greatly minimize sugar, bad carbs and processed food, as they increase hunger too.
And then with the help of Adult Day Care (which kept my mother and father so busy during the day that they'd sleep through the night), he stopped ransacking the house all night looking for food. Accomplishing all this wasn't easy or perfect, but eventually I was able to greatly reduce my father's ravenous appetite and weight.
At the time, I didn't fully appreciate my father's torment of "starving", so of course--Karma got me later. When I developed breast cancer, the only thing I was happy about was that I would probably lose some weight! Au contraire, like everyone else on my chemo protocol, I gained because the steroids made me ravenously hungry. Even after eating a meal, within an hour I was starving again. It makes me so sad and angry that I had not been instructed sooner how to reduce what I now know was so much misery for my father.
So, please look up your father's medications online to see if any have the side effect of increasing hunger. Bring all this to the doctor's attention to see if any can be modified or substituted--one at a time, so you can monitor and see which was responsible. Clean up his diet, keep him active, and remember that you should always see different doctors if you are not getting the help you need.
Jacqueline Marcell cared for her elderly parents with Alzheimer's disease and authored "Elder Rage." She hosts the internet radio program "Coping With Caregiving." Read her full biography