Our appetite and desire to eat anything is influenced by so many factors, from physical issues such as pain, sickness and constipation to anxiety, fear and feeling low. Yet not eating enough is one of the most important issues to try to tackle, especially when we are already unwell, as our body needs a plentiful supply of nutrients to help it fight disease, infections, repair from surgery and injury, and psychologically enable us to feel as if we are doing something positive to help ourselves. Weight loss and weakness compromise our bodies and also build up fear that the illness will defeat us.
With diseases like dementia, where carers must take an active part in nourishing someone and preparing food, creating a warm, calm atmosphere with delicious meals helps support both the person with dementia and those looking after them. Take a holistic look at the person you care for and their environment as it’s often not just a physical issue at play; emotional elements play a significant part in tackling a poor appetite.
- Practical issues. Do they have a sore mouth, badly fitted dentures, or is the effort of preparing food (if their dementia isn’t that advanced) or chewing and swallowing (if it’s more severe) preventing them from eating?
- Mood & food. Some of us don’t like to eat on our own, which can be a real issue if we live alone. And when our mood is low and angry, eating can be the last thing we feel like doing. Can you, or someone you trust, take the time to sit and take the stalks off grapes, peel a clementine, cajole without pestering someone who has a poor appetite, and note if they don’t manage to eat much?
- Monitor their eating. What we do know about a poor appetite is that the less we eat, often the less we fancy eating. Undernourishment, or malnutrition, can kick in, and problems such as pressure sores, poor wound healing and depression start occurring. If you suspect that your relative or friend in a care home isn’t getting the right types of food, or that they’re not getting help with eating, make yourself a nuisance and either try to persuade someone to sit with them while they’re eating, or ask if you can bring in some food.
- Food to tempt them. Take your cues from the person when it comes to tempting their appetite. Are there dishes they loved in the past, favourite family recipes, easy-to-eat alternatives to tried-and-trusted meals? The scent, taste, look and feel of food can all trigger a desire to eat and provide the comfort and nourishment they need.
- Create a food mood board. Often, memories are linked to foods we loved eating at a precise moment. For me, childhood summer holidays are rekindled as soon as I think about knickerbocker glories and eating fish and chips out of the newspaper on the North Wales coast, while my treasured aunt and uncle sang with the choir on the seafront. A personal food mood board made from photos of favourite dishes, people and places can be a great way to communicate and also stimulate a jaded appetite.
For more information on a nourishing healthy diet, see Nutrition Basics.
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