One of the most difficult parts of elderly care for family members is noticing the impact that poor eating habits has on their loved one’s overall health.
Even for professional caregivers, knowing how to get someone to eat when they refuse is one of the more challenging aspects of the job.
Read on to find out how to compassionately encourage an elderly person to eat, as well as how an indoor security camera can be essential in remotely overseeing regular mealtimes, and discover some of the best food for elderly with no appetite.
How Can I Help the Elderly to Remember to Eat?
That’s why it shouldn’t be assumed to be ‘natural’ or ‘normal’. It can indicate malnourishment.
Below are 5 essential tips on how to get someone to eat when they refuse, forget, or lack an appetite.
1. Set scheduled mealtimes
Schedules can ensure that elderly folks eat even if their appetite is diminished. Eating at the same time every day also better prepares the body to anticipate food and drink at specific times.
Be aware that seniors with a dementia diagnosis may struggle with a schedule, in which case the caregiver will almost always need to be present to facilitate mealtimes.
2. Two-way audio camera
Not all seniors require round-the-clock care, but it’s still important that informal caregivers have some level of awareness of how much food and water are being consumed at scheduled times, particularly if they notice signs of unexplained weight loss.
A camera in the kitchen can be a helpful way for caregivers to occasionally touch base and ensure that food and water are being consumed, especially if they aren’t able to show up in person.
Two-way audio allows both parties to chat to one another through the camera, so caregivers can politely encourage eating or drinking and, most importantly, avoid compromising dignity.
3. Reduce portion sizes
If an elderly person is refusing or forgetting to eat, forcing them to eat more to make up for lack of calorie intake is counterintuitive and deeply undermines their integrity. It would also end up being a waste of food.
Instead, compromise: reduce meal sizes and incorporate high-calorie and nutrient-rich ingredients. The best foods for elderly with no appetite include:
- Leafy greens, including spinach and kale
- Olive and vegetable oils
- Grains, including bulgur wheat and quinoa
- Fatty meats, including pork and beef
- Oily fish, including salmon
- Full-fat dairy, including yogurt and cheese
4. Meal prep
If it becomes apparent that the person being cared for is not eating because they aren’t preparing their meals, caregivers must undertake meal prep.
If the elderly person is not eating all the time, keep in mind the intention to reduce meal sizes when preparing foods for the week.
Simple, easy-to-eat meals that can be eaten straight out of the fridge or microwaved work best, since they can be ‘assembled’ immediately by the person eating them.
Stimulate the appetite with:
- Leafy green salads (kale, spinach) with olive oil-based dressings, avocados, legumes, and grains like bulgur wheat or quinoa
- Salmon or chicken-based salads with olive oil-based dressings
- Granola with chopped fruits and full-fat milk for breakfast (granola with nuts for those that don’t suffer from nut allergies)
- Saucy pasta or rice meals with leafy greens and a protein (pre-grated full-fat cheese can also be added on top)
- Full-fat yogurts for dessert
- Liberal quantities of butter, oil, and cream to increase calorie intake
5. Smoothies & Shakes
While it’s easier said than done, a reliable way to at least ensure a person is consuming sufficient calories and nutrients is to invest in a food processor and make smoothies or shakes for them.
This shouldn’t be prioritized as a solution by caregivers because the process of chewing and swallowing hard foods is beneficial, but it may become increasingly necessary if a person is severely underweight.
It also allows caregivers to healthily cater to the sweet tooth that seniors sometimes have. Smoothies and shakes for elderly people should include foods like:
- Leafy greens – large quantities of spinach or kale can be packed into smoothies more or less unnoticed when combined with sweeter foods
- Blueberries – widely regarded a superfood, blueberries can sweeten up a smoothie in a healthy way
- Bananas – great for making up the bulk of a smoothie, they can be combined with strawberries for a tasty treat
- Full-fat yogurt, milk – smoothies and shakes are an easy way to introduce plenty of dairy into the diet. Don’t fear full-fat options—undernourished people can benefit from them
- Nuts, legumes, seeds – protein-rich foods that aren’t meat, like nuts, legumes, and seeds, can be added liberally without altering the flavor
- Avocado – aside from being nutrient-dense, avocados add butteriness and a creamy texture to the mix
- Powders, vitamins – different kinds of powder, including protein powders, and other supplements can be easily incorporated into smoothies and shakes to make up for deficiencies, but it won’t always be necessary. Always consult a doctor or nutritionist before incorporating any kind of supplements.
How Do You Deal with an Elderly Person Who is Not Eating?
Emotionally, dealing with an elderly person who isn’t eating can be difficult, especially if that person is related to you. Patience, both for yourself and the person being cared for, is crucial to dealing with the situation in helpful ways.
Consulting the doctor is the first and most important thing to do should someone notice weight loss.
A loss of appetite can be caused by a whole plethora of things, from medicines and prescription drugs to mental health problems, so a doctor should be able to help narrow down the causes and provide some perspective.
If the cause is unclear, here are some tricks to stimulate appetite in the elderly:
1. Appetite stimulants
The best appetite stimulant for elderly people will be recommended by the doctor on a case-by-case basis, and may require trial-and-error to find what works best.
3. Tasty food
Bad food is just that. Bad. Busy caregivers might gravitate towards frozen ready meals because they seem convenient, but these are highly processed and not particularly pleasant to eat.
Meal prepping for seniors gives them the same convenience as they would have eating ready-meals, but allows for more appetizing food to be prepared. Tastier food is simply more enticing, and is key to increasing appetite in elderly naturally.
Should I force my elderly parent to eat?
Never force someone that has the capacity to eat through the mouth to eat. It will have the opposite effect of the one intended. Instead, patiently and kindly encouraging them with tasty, pre-prepared food is important in maintaining their dignity.
Eat with them; meals should be a social occasion whenever possible, as is the case at any age. If the issue persists, consult a doctor. They may prescribe an appetite stimulant or identify a medicine that is causing the loss of appetite.
Is Not Eating a Stage of Dementia?
Dementia ‘stages’ describe the severity of the disorder, and are generally separated into seven stages, from no observable impairments to end-stage dementia.
How do you remind someone with dementia to eat?
The easiest way to remind someone with dementia to eat is to join them at mealtimes. Meals should not be presented as a chore or task, but a time for socializing and relaxing. Praise the food and gently encourage them to eat. Earlier stages of dementia may not require being present all the time, in which case refer to the five tips above.
What are the signs of an elderly person’s body shutting down?
Rapid and unexpected weight loss is a strong indicator that an elderly person’s body isn’t adequately nourished. Blood tests and other examinations will also be able to determine the relative health of the person’s body, so caregivers should not hesitate to take them to the doctor (or have a doctor visit the house) if they are anxious about health decline.
What is food neophobia in the elderly?
Generally, however, being averse to new foods as an elderly person doesn’t mean that the person will become malnourished so long as they continue to eat the foods they have always eaten.
Can lack of food cause confusion in elderly?
What are the effects of starvation in the elderly?
Starvation presents itself in various symptoms in the elderly. Low blood sugar, or a blood sugar crash, will occur first, which itself brings about initial symptoms like nausea, dizziness, shaking. Eventually, it causes slurred speech, confusion, fainting, seizures, and extreme fatigue.
If the person continues to starve over an extended period, they are eventually described as malnourished. This means their body lacks the necessary calories, carbs, proteins, fats, and critical minerals and nutrients. This will cause hair loss, paleness or jaundice, dryness, emaciation (thinness), decreased muscle tone, increased bruising, rashes, and general skin irritation.
When someone forgets, refuses, or is indifferent to eating, it can have a serious impact on their health. The knock-on effects are extensive, and not eating will exacerbate all existing health conditions.
Patience is a virtue when it comes to encouraging someone or reminding them to eat. Most importantly, presenting food as a ‘chore’ is to be avoided at all costs, because it only inspires greater aversion to food.
Always consult a doctor or nutritionist for advice about eating habits, especially for those living with a terminal illness. During the later stages of a terminal illness, a feeding tube may be required to ensure they are sufficiently nourished, which a healthcare professional can advise on.