Kyle has been working as Greg’s caregiver for three months now. Greg, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, has become increasingly challenging at mealtimes — and Kyle isn’t sure how to respond. Should he encourage Kyle to eat when he refuses to do so, or simply let him be?
It’s a common scenario for caregivers: The patient refuses to eat, and the professional must respond in a way that promotes the client’s well-being while respecting their boundaries. As people age, their metabolism and eating habits change, and it’s important for caregivers to acknowledge this.
But malnutrition from insufficient food intake is, according to a 2004 Nursing Clinics of North America study, the cause of 40 out of every 100,000 deaths in individuals 85 years and older. As such, it’s important to proceed with caution when patients aren’t getting enough to eat.
Nurse2Help urges caregivers to handle the situation with care — and the first step is to understand why the patient might be refusing to eat.
- Sensory Issues
Eye conditions, along with a reduction in taste and smell, can lessen the pleasure of eating and put senior patients on edge at mealtimes. Some focus so much on these sensory changes that they no longer want to eat. Keep an open line of communication with the patient so you know where they are at, and gently remind them of the importance of nutrition.
- Oral or Digestive Health Issues
Patients who have a difficult time chewing — tooth conditions, poor-fitting dentures, and structural changes to the jaw are often to blame — may resist eating regular meals. Again, it’s important to talk to them about what they are feeling. If they experience physical pain or discomfort, try to serve foods that require less chewing. Mashed potatoes, peas, and hearty soups and stews are appealing options.
In turn, patients who struggle with digestive issues such as constipation often lose their appetite. If you notice any changes in your client’s digestive health, talk to them, and see to it that they seek the proper care.
Some medications, including certain antidepressants and Alzheimer’s drugs, boast side effects that can alter patients’ eating habits. If you notice changes in your client’s appetite shortly after they start taking a new medication, see if their doctor can adjust the dosage, prescription, or make dietary recommendations.
- Reluctance to Cook or Eat Alone
If the patient feels frustrated that they can no longer cook independently, or if the idea of eating alone depresses them, ask them what you can do to improve the situation. You could start cooking together, or you could take over kitchen duty entirely if the client prefers it. Similarly, make sure your patient is getting enough social interaction. Attend local events for seniors, and dine with the client whenever possible to keep them engaged while they eat.
As a caregiver, you want to be empathetic and manage the situation in a way that puts the patient at ease. The first step is to understand where they are coming from. If they are reluctant to eat, ask the patient whether they simply aren’t hungry, or if there are any food-related issues they would like to discuss.
Stay tuned for more caregiving tips, tricks, and resources from Nurse2Help. The Nurse2Help app lists hundreds of prescreened caregivers in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area.