Eldercare Series: Why Your Elder May Not Be Eating and How To Help

If you’re a Club Sandwich member, aka a member of the “sandwich generation,” you may find yourself dealing with picky eaters of all ages. It can be frustrating to sit down to a nutritious home cooked meal only to have both your preschooler and your elder not eat. While being a picky eater can be a stage for growing kiddos, it could be a sign that something bigger is going on with your elder.

The following are some of the most common reasons that older adults don’t eat, plus some tips to help get them eating again.

Mouth or Denture Pain

When you have a toothache, you don’t want to eat. It makes sense that if your senior is having tooth pain or pain associated with dentures that they wouldn’t want to eat either. Pain while eating is a major reason that many seniors don’t eat as much and avoid certain foods. A trip to the dentist can rule out both issues, and may help your senior get back to eating.

If dentures aren’t snug against the gums, they start to rub. Over time, a person’s mouth and jaw can change shape, leaving even the best fitting pair of dentures loose and painful. Your elder’s dentist can realign them, recast them, or insert mini implants to stabilize the dentures.

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They Can’t See the Food on Their White Plate

What color is the dinner plate your elder eats from? If it’s not red, you might want to go buy them a red plate. According to a study released by Boston University, senior citizens with dementia and Alzheimer’s ate 25% more food from red plates then they did from their typical white plates. Why? Because they can see that there is food against the bright background.

A research paper released from the study opens with the line, “If you couldn’t see your mashed potatoes, you probably wouldn’t eat them.” If your elder can’t tell the difference between the food and their plate, it makes sense that they aren’t eating the way they should be. Buying red plates is also a great tip for those who have loved ones with cataracts and other visual impairments that reduce their ability to see clearly.

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Their Sense of Smell and Taste Has Weakened

As we age, our five senses weaken, even our sense of smell and our sense of taste. If you and I try a bite of something and it tastes bland, we usually don’t want more. If you suspect that your elder just isn’t into the flavour of foods they once loved, try kicking up the spice and the herbs. You can either add more seasonings to the entire dish, or separate your loved one’s portion and add a little extra just to theirs.

Additional Tips That May Help

On top of having your elder’s oral health checked, switching to red plates, and spicing up dinner, here are some other things you can do to try to get your loved one eating:

  • Eat on a set routine, so that your elder gets accustomed to eating at certain times and knows when it is time to eat.
  • Let them eat at their own pace. It may take them longer to finish than the rest of the family, and feeling rushed can have them saying their done before they’ve eaten enough.
  • Cut out background noises, clean clutter around the table, and switch patterned tablecloths for plain colored versions. Little things like a TV playing or a patterned place setting can be stimulating, especially to those with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
  • Gently give verbal guidance when needed. Some elder’s may need to be reminded to pick up their fork, scoop up their veggies, and then take a bite.

Has your senior ever had a problem eating? What did you do to help get them eating again? Your tips and comments could help others and we LOVE reading them! Also, if you have a moment let’s connect on Facebook and Twitter!

Photos courtesy of Jane Rahman and Gabriel Li on Flickr.

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