Leonard J. Hansen  |  43 Comments  | 

Why Elderly People Don't Eat

Proper nutrition is vital to your parent for maintaining health, retaining and building bone mass and, importantly, to enable medications to work effectively in the body -- and possibly with fewer side effects.

But, what if Mom or Dad won't eat whether properly, or won't eat enough? This creates an added challenge to you as caregiver. There may be valid reasons that your parent may shy away from dining. As the caregiver, you want to uncover the reasons why your parent is not eating, and try to address the underlying issues. Here are 10 reasons why seniors sometimes don't eat properly, according to the National Institutes of Health and its National Institute on Aging, plus augmented in one-on-one-interviews of professional caregivers.

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1. Reduction in Senses of Smell and Taste
Dining involves many senses: aromas, colors and tastes in one's mouth; but many mature adults experience a lessening of the senses of smell and sense of taste in their aging process. There is a reduction in the experience that, in turn, lessens the personal desire for food. There is no magic pill to restore full senses of smell and taste.

As caregiver and chief cook, you can alter your recipes, switching from typical spices used in the past or as used by your parent in his or her own cooking, to herbs and spices with a bit more zing, and that introduce a new, added flavor to the dish.

2. Reduction in Sense of Sight
Cataracts and other conditions in the eyes can reduce your parent's visual perception of the meal servings, thereby reducing the image to "blah."

You can easily enhance the visual representation by increasing the food colors on the plate, separating them so that the colors are defined and easily perceived. Consider a main course with a colorful topping, a multi-colored salad, red potatoes, or orange carrots. Of course, vary the plate presentation by the day, that is, unless your parent really responds to one or two of your designer presentations. In this way you can reach effectively through to the remaining sense of vision.

3. Medications
Some medications have side effects that can change your parent's sense of taste or make her or him less hungry. Ask your parent's doctor if the prescribed medications or medical treatments are causing loss of appetite, bad taste or no flavor. The physician may be able to substitute with a different medication, or prescribe an added medication to correct the problem.

4. Constipation
A side effect of many prescription drugs is constipation, a most uncomfortable condition where the patient claims to have no room left for additional food. The first step to solution is to reduce the incidence of constipation.

Consider increasing the amount of water your parent drinks throughout the day. With the proper diet and nutrition, the water will help clear the digestion system and, therefore, the volume of food retained in the stomach.

Consider increasing the percentage of food that will actually help the functioning of your parent's elimination system.

5. Problems with Chewing
If your parent has trouble chewing, he or she may have a teeth or gum problem or, if wearing dentures, the appliances may need to be adjusted. Advise your Mom or Dad's dentist about the chewing problem so that the specialist can check and correct the teeth, gums or dentures.

Chewing problems can often be resolved by eating softer foods. This can be resolved by replacing raw vegetables and fresh fruits with cooked vegetables or juices. Good nutrition can also be found in foods like applesauce and canned peaches or other fruits.

Ground or shredded meats are typically easy to chew or, in lieu of meat, consider soft foods such as cooked, dry beans, eggs, tofu, tuna fish and such.

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