Never Too Late March/April 2024


By Tonetta Clay, Family Caregiver Support Group Specialist My Loved One Won’t Eat As kids, we are taught to eat well- balanced meals and to not waste food. We take this to heart, but no one tells us that these principles can change as people age. As a caregiver, you may feel that your entire world of food is flipped upside down when the person you care for eats very little (of all the “wrong” things)—or refuses to eat altogether. Watching your loved one eat poorly, or lose weight is cause for concern, so it is best to take action to get to the bottom of the situation. Your loved one may be eating less for a number of reasons like: • Declining appetite (a normal part of aging) • Lessened taste or smell • Limited access to preferred food • Difficulty swallowing • Loneliness, isolation, or depression • Medication side effects • Dental or medical problems (mouth pain, dry mouth, heartburn, GERD) • Dementia As a caregiver, you are not responsible to “make” your loved one eat more. But there are strategies that may help you to best ensure your loved one’s nutrition and wellbeing: • Assist your loved in in getting fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity—all of which stimulate appetite • Set a regular, predictable schedule for snacks and meals

• Ask your loved one what types of foods they want to eat, and keep track of their preferences—especially if they tend to forget • Keep nutritious staples like water, broth, milk or protein shakes, fresh fruit and other snacks in sight and within reach • Try different foods, vary textures, and add different seasonings to “spice things up” • Provide two options for some meals • Cut food into smaller pieces or serve softer foods that are easier to hold, eat, and swallow (think finger foods) • Serve food on small plates and keep the table clutter-free • Make meal times a social event rather than a power struggle—let it be about relationship rather than calories. And invite others to join you

• Seek professional care to address emotional, dental, medical, and/or cognitive concerns If your loved one is eating very little, or not at all, you may find yourself getting angry, insisting, or threatening. None of these responses will improve the situation, but instead, may motivate your loved one to hold more firmly to their independence, defensiveness, or “stubbornness.” Remember that your loved one is dealing with changes and uncertainties, and may feel afraid or discouraged, too. Be compassionate and gently encourage them to eat delicious and nutritious items while showing respect for their wishes and choices. It can be scary to observe changes and declines in your aging loved one. But you are not alone! For personalized support, suggestions, and resources, ask to talk with a Caregiving Specialist by calling (520) 790-7262.

Page 18 | March/April 2024, Never Too Late

Pima Council on Aging

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