How do I get my sick elderly mother to eat when she refuses?


Q: How do I get my sick elderly mother to eat when she refuses?

A: I know how hard that is because my normally sweet mother did the same stubborn thing. She had been so sick she'd gotten down to 82 pounds, yet would clinch her teeth when I got half way through feeding her--saying she was going to get fat!

We desperately needed to increase her weight, so I started including a "milkshake" of Ensure Plus with every meal, which added 365 calories each time. I ground up mixed berries in the blender with the vanilla and strawberry flavors to add even more nutrition. With the chocolate I added malt and ground up Almond Rocca candy to add more calories. She loved them.

Since most elders have respect for their doctor and will do what they say, ask her doctor to sternly tell your mother how much she has to eat and get her to promise that she will. Also, get a written "prescription" about it, so you can easily remind her of her promise. I discovered that by telling my mother I had a "prescription" from the doctor saying that I had to report what she'd eaten, and that she was going to get me in big trouble if she didn't finish her meal--she'd finally consent and open her mouth for several more bites.

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

Jacqueline Marcell is a former television executive who was so compelled by caring for her elderly parents (both with early Alzheimer's not diagnosed for over a year) she wrote "Elder Rage." She is also an international speaker on elder care and host of the popular Internet radio program "Coping With Caregiving."

Elder Rage

View full profile

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!


Raw eggs??????? Raw eggs usually are contaminated with salmonella....not a problem if proerly cooked, but raw, it is a prescription for infection and death for elderly patients.
My mother was in a nursing home and had a sporadic appetite. When I would visit her, we would watch the Food Network for about an hour before time for dinner. She was fascinated by the cooking and would indicate how much she liked the looks of the food. By the time her dinner tray came, she was hungry and would eat better. I kept the Food Network on during the meal, so she could keep watching. Unbelievably, it really worked!


I have read through all 84 comments with great interest as my mother who has Alzheimer's and who will be 97 years old next month is not eating much at all. She was rushed from the assisted living facility where she lived to a hospital two weeks ago because of a racing heartbeat problem and now is being kept in the hospital until a bed in a long-term care facility can be found because she has required for many months more care than the assisted living facility is mandated to or can provide . Mom had not been eating much at the assisted living facility and she is eating even less now at the hospital. I know she will not continue to live too much longer if this pattern continues. My siblings and I do not see eye-to-eye concerning this matter so it was with great relief that I read the 84 comments. After reading the comments, I have decided I should ask Mom's doctor if he thinks Mom's body is shutting down in preparation for death (as some of you have suggested can be the case when an elderly person stops eating). If he thinks not, then I will ask if he would prescribe an appetite enhancer for my mom (some of you have said that enhancers help). I will also try to find an Oddwalla (never heard of it) case as dahliaseason suggested and see if Monster Protein or Super Protein will interest my mom. I also have printed off some of your comments for my siblings to read so that 1) they can see that Mom's not eating is not just "her choice" 2) they can see that we are not the only ones having to deal with frustrations 3) they can see that we can choose to do more if the doctor tells me that Mom's body isn't preparing for death. One question my siblings pose is "Since Mom's quality of life is not very good, why would we WANT to prolong her life?" I have given some answers (she isn't in pain, she still is glad to see us, she sometimes makes comments that show she is still interested in life around her, Mom isn't necessarily being helpless just so that she will be "pampered", Alzheimer's will be affecting her thinking) but I would really be interested in reading answers from this caregiver group before I meet with my siblings again in four days time. I should add that, unfortunately, my mom has used passive aggressive behaviour to her advantage for decades so this causes (rightly or wrongly) some suspicion concerning some of her behaviour now. I look forward to reading your comments. I know they will be thoughtful and helpful. AND best wishes to you all in 2011!