Nutrition seems like “Duh! Of course we need to eat!”. Of course, we should eat a healthy diet! Five years ago while my parents still lived states away, my mom would report that she wasn’t hunger. The next time we would speak, she would say she couldn’t remember the last time she ate. I had heard the elderly, at the end of their lives not have any desire to eat, but my mom wasn’t anywhere near the end of her life. Depressed, maybe. Death, no.
My step dad would cook basics for the two of them. She refused to eat, because… she wasn’t hunger. He did not press this issue claiming, “She is an adult and can make that decision.” On the occasion that they would go out to eat, she would order and eat a little something, bringing the rest home in a doggie bag. What can we do? How can we help? How do we help from states away?
Initially there were a few people from my parents’ church that brought meals over. That is wonderful but not a long term solution. Meals On Wheels was not a solution either. There was food in the house. Both of my parents could and were driving. The problem was getting the food into my mom!
We had a prepped meal subscription delivered to my parents home. At that time, due to an surgery, my mom had an in home aide a couple times a week. This good woman would be in the kitchen and cook “with” my mom. Meaning the aide cooked, my mom was there for company and to talk about the food. Then mom and her husband would eat. This was a good solution for awhile. Once the aide was no longer around, we had to cancel the service because the food wasn’t being cooked.
Mom’s not eating was a strong factor in the decision to move her to our home. Her health was not going to maintain itself or improve without food. With a house full of boys and their friends, there is always food in our home! We generally had/have dinner as a family. So we add two more people to the table, no problem. Now she is here – hunger still not registering. What to do next…
She loved coming to the table. It’s was a start! Next, smaller portions on her plate. Seconds are always an option, if interested. Mom would sit down and tell us she wasn’t hungry. As the meal and rowdy conversation took off, she joined in. Before she knew what was happening, she had joined the Clean Plate Club! (This is not just reserved for toddlers who don’t like veggies!). Feedback from my mom- It is overwhelming to sit for a meal and see a huge plate of food in front of her. A smaller plate with a more modest serving is manageable. Additionally, she has a sense of accomplishment when she finishes a meal!
Unfortunately, it is not just as easy as that everyday. Ohhh and my mom should eat other than dinner during the day, right?!
Let’s start with breakfast. Only if my mom was all about a schedule… As a team effort including my mom, we attempt to have her awake and going by 10am. Breakfast high in protein is the ideal priority. Many times, since our younger boys are home all the time due to the pandemic- they make mom eggs when they fix their own. Then the struggle… getting her to sit down and eat. She is easily distracted by anything and everything. So getting mom from the bed, to the bathroom and then to the table – there is a world of shiny distractions (believe me, all attempts at minimizing distractions are taken). Incessant reminding, “Please eat first.” (Sure one could call it ‘nagging’… but that seems so negative!)
The mornings when I am out of the house (yep, I have other commitments) – it is not uncommon for me to get home at 1pm and my mom would not have eaten or taken her medications. Immediately, she conveys that she just needs to finish her task. A dance starts. This late in the day, now she has low blood sugar and her reasoning is not working. The more I encourage food, the more she resists because she is “just finishing up”. Yes, I step back, say ‘ok’ and give her a time when I will return to her. Then the dance continues…
Best I can tell, like life, this is trial and error. Not the same solution works for every individual. The solution that worked yesterday may not work today. We tried a breakfast snack at her bedside – so she would eat as soon as she got up. (Yes, I definitely took this idea from being pregnant!) We unsuccessfully tried setting alarms for her to wake up. Free will. Inconsistent sleep schedules. Chronic depression. OCD. All reasons that add up to not eating regularly.
When breakfast isn’t consumed in a timely matter, lunch becomes the next battle! Yes, I did say battle. The most frequent response when I mention lunch to my mom, is “I just ate!” said with exasperation. I will point out it has now been 5 hours…or whatever the passed time has been. “No, I just ate.” If I am lucky, I can convince her to take a yogurt, fruit, beets, a protein bar, or a Glucerna. Or an alternate situation presents itself…
If breakfast was slight or “overlooked”, it is possible lunch can be a win. There are certain meals my mom favors and I can suggest those, including a favorite restaurant. However this decision is balanced with the current time and the future plan for dinner. If she eats too much at lunch and dinner is early – she will fight eating dinner. I do not always think about eating lunch, so this doesn’t active an alarm for me either. Then time slides and I miss the window to get my mom lunch.
The more upset or frustrated my mom is, the less she is willing to cooperate. (This is probably true of all of us.) Eating is critical to her health. So, depending on the day, the hour and the surrounding environment, I try whatever solution I think might work. I am NOT below sending grandchildren in and having them make her eat. Whatever it takes!
Certainly some of you have encountered this resistance. (I just giggled while typing ‘resistance’ – sounds like Star Wars!) Have you had success with any specific effort that you could share? Either with your loved ones miles away or under the same roof? This moment in life, like so many others feels like – “it takes a village”. When I am up against a new force, I search for help.
Getting food and meals into the house was the first aspect of eating we encountered. These are a few of the solutions we used:
- Family members make/deliver meals
- Keep prepped meals in the fridge, just heat up. Usually available at most grocery stores or through grocery delivery
- Mail order meals to prepare
- Churches usually have outreach programs for parishioners
- Meals on Wheels
- In house aides
The second aspect we came up against was getting my mom to eat the food. Successes for us based on my mom’s consumption and her feedback include:
- Making meal time social. Focus on time together that just happens to accompany a food.
- Serve smaller portions on smaller dishes (if possible). Everyone likes a sense of accomplishment, so let your parent win this one, finish a plate of food.
- When nourishment is the focus, have a back up option available such as a meal replacement shake – for us it is Glucerna.
- If operating on a schedule works for your situation, take advantage of the opportunity and get those meals on the schedule.
- When a schedule isn’t the norm, make the most out of the food that is being consumed, for us that means high protein.
I feel confident saying, we haven’t seen the end of this issue, so please share any solutions you have used!
Thank you for reading and for caring for someone.
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