Elderly Parents Nutrition - Dealing with Eating Behaviors and Misbehavior's

Elderly Parent Nutrition - Dealing with Eating Behaviors and Misbehavior's

Most elderly parents don't have any trouble with mealtime, but for caregivers of those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's, mealtime can be quite a struggle – both for the caregiver and his or her parent.

Varying degrees of cognitive decline often bring with it certain fears, anxieties and behaviors that they have little control over. Learning how to identify such issues, and finding calm, positive approaches to them, may help take some of the frustration out of dining for your elderly parents.

Dining Difficulties

Many elderly parents diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's must confront changes in memory, comprehension and erratic mood swings that may range from pleasant and easy going one minute to fearful, tearful or angry the next. Such emotional changes offer caregivers a constant challenge in providing care when it comes to mealtimes. Many individuals with dementia literally forget that they must eat, and sometimes even forget how to eat. These situations may be especially challenging for caregivers.

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Eating behaviors (or misbehavior's) often include:

  • Refusal to eat
  • Mishandling or throwing food
  • Refusal to chew or swallow
  • Spitting food

Remember that such behaviors are not a deliberate attempt to annoy you. They are often caused by an individual's fear or anxiety such as:

  • Over stimulation
  • Discomfort
  • Frustration
  • Complicated tasks

Elderly parents diagnosed with Alzheimer's may have difficulty chewing and swallowing. Preparing and serving easy to chew and swallow foods is very important at this stage. In addition, individuals with dementia are easily distracted and suffer from short attention spans. For this reason, caregivers will need to carefully plan mealtimes and limit activities going on in and around the home when meals are served to a senior suffering from any type of cognitive disorder.

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Addressing Special Needs

There are many ways in which a caregiver may make mealtimes easier on both themselves and their elderly parents. A list of suggested methods may include the basics such as:

  • Offer only one food at a time
  • Try to schedule mealtimes for calmer periods of the day
  • Be willing to try new, different foods
  • Be especially alert to signs of difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Make silverware, cups and plates 'elderly friendly'

Finding three or four things on a plate may be overwhelming to a person suffering from dementia. Making a decision of what to eat first may cause confusion and an inability to decide. Try serving one item at a time, and in small, manageable portions.

Use specially designed silverware that allows those suffering from arthritis or mobility issues to feed themselves. Try using sipper cups with lids or those that allow straws to facilitate self-directed eating. Limit items on the table to avoid distractions.

If your elderly parent shows signs of agitation at mealtime, remember to stay calm and speak in low, soft tones. Don't argue. Be patient. Try not to take anything personally. Communication is often the key to success, but there will be times when nothing works. Also, diseases such as Alzheimer's often causes an elderly parent to forget the meaning of words, which leads to intense frustration caused by an inability to communicate needs and wishes. The same is true for the caregiver, who finds it increasingly difficult to make a parent understand what is asked of him or her.

Some basic responses suggested by experienced caregivers include a number of methods that may help make mealtimes a little easier. For example:

  • Try different responses to behaviors or issues and see which works best
  • If your parent refuses to eat, try again in about fifteen minutes
  • Remain calm and don't argue – you won't win
  • Determine if something specific set off the behavior
  • Discuss potential side effects of medications, such as dry mouth, loss of appetite, or food tasting funny to help eliminate eating issues with your parent's physician
  • Try to limit distractions
  • Play soft music during mealtimes

Remember that independence is more important than proper table manners. For this reason, finger type foods are encouraged.

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Changing Situations for Changing Needs

Conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's gradually worsen over time. While this is a heartbreaking reality for caregivers, it is also a time when extra support, reassurance and compassion are necessary. Daily tasks may prove increasingly difficult as cognitive levels decline, but by educating yourself and knowing what to expect, caregivers may help their parents through various stages of cognitive disorders with tenderness, patience and love.

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