Our elder dropped about 25 pounds in a three month time frame. The doctors are concerned because it could be a sign of many different things. Here are a few and some ways that could help overcome them.
Boredom: Our elder is in an assisted living facility. The food is very institutional. It’s bland and there isn’t a lot of variation on the menu. Eating the same thing day after day can be boring. I end up eating there three days a week and I’m bored of it.
One of the solutions to this would be to take the elder out for a meal, or bring her home to eat with the family once in a while. If that doesn’t work, and in our case it won’t, bring in something you know the elder likes. Our elder is fond of merengue cookies, so we make sure she has a supply.
Another part of our solution is that we do eat with her on a regular basis. The food might be boring, but being with us and having us eat with her encourages her to eat. She doesn’t really realize it until she’s finished her entire lunch.
Mental Confusion: Some of the elders I’ve worked with don’t have the ability to concentrate long enough to eat a meal. This can be dealt with in one of two ways. One is to keep them focused on eating. Saying something like, “Oh, there’s a grape. Those are really good,” can encourage self-feeding. When this doesn’t work, you may need someone to actually feed the patient.
Spices: The reason the food in our elder’s facility is bland is because many elders have issues with spicy foods. Some don’t like it and others can’t tolerate it. If the food being offered to the elder at home is spicy, try setting some aside without the spices and see if it encourages eating.
Swallowing Issues: There are some illnesses and conditions that create difficulties swallowing. The food has to be pureed, and there are some foods that are absolutely disgusting when pureed. Here you will have to work with the elder to find foods that are good when served that way.
Drugs: Most elders are on drugs for one thing or another. These drugs have side effects and some of them can affect the appetite. This affect could be to suppress it or it could be to cause nausea. It’s kind of hard to eat under those conditions.
Check with the doctor on this one. Some drugs can be changed for other that don’t have the same side effects. If that can’t be done, anti-nausea medications can be given as well as appetite stimulants.
Medical Conditions: This is the one that the doctors are worried about. Many medical conditions, including the one our elder is dealing with, can cause lack of appetite and/or weight loss. How this is dealt with depends greatly on the condition of the patient. In some cases the doctors might use an appetite stimulant. In others, it may not be wise.
This is important to understand, even if it will be hard to read. There may come a time when eating actually hurts the patient more than it helps. As the body is shutting down prior to death, food is the last thing the patient wants or needs. When the doctors tell you this, listen to them. This is the one time you don’t want to encourage eating.