personal care - eating

As a caregiver, you may find that mealtimes are the most challenging part of your personal care duties. Your loved one may suffer from a number of ailments such as diabetes, difficulty swallowing, inability to chew and loss of motor skills. By designing an attractive diet, using specialised equipment and providing unobtrusive assistance, feeding your loved one can become less stressful.

Healthy and Delicious

It is quite easy for seniors to develop malnutrition. A poor appetite due to food limitations is one cause. This can result in problems such as pressure wounds, falls, lower immunity and depression. Even if your senior is on a restricted diet, it is important to make sure that food is not bland and vital nutrients are not overlooked. Don’t Give Me Eggs That Bounce is an Australian recipe book that may give inspiration to caregivers who are seeking inspiring, healthy recipes for seniors.

Making Adjustments

Your first step is to make sure that the dining area is suitable for your senior. Check that dining chairs are comfortable and the table is an appropriate height. Chairs should be non-slip and allow your senior to place feet firmly on the floor. Your senior should be able to rest his/her arms comfortably on the table. Additional adjustments may help your senior to eat independently and make your personal care tasks easier.

Bite-sized: Cut up food into bite-sized pieces during cooking or before serving.

Grip: Big grip cutlery which may even have cuffs with an elastic strap can help those with arthritis or limited motor skills to eat.

Trays: Serve food on a tray which may limit spillage.

Clothing protectors: Using disposable clothing protectors or specialty bibs will make the experience more comfortable for your senior.

Bumper guards: These can be placed at the back of plates to prevent food being pushed off.

Cups: Use cups with a T-shaped handle for easier grip.

Providing Assistance

Allow your senior to be as independent as possible. Serve foods in the order that they prefer. If assistance is necessary, ask your senior what s/he would like you to do. This may require some patience, but ultimately, your senior will have a better appetite if s/he finds mealtimes to be a pleasant experience.

  • Make sure your senior is in a fully upright position with good posture.
  • Stand to the side where your senior is not obstructed, but can communicate easily.
  • Place food directly in front of your senior where s/he can see it clearly. Using clock positions, explain where the food is on the plate if s/he has poor eyesight.
  • Place small amounts of food on spoon or fork and allow your senior to lift it to his/her mouth, if possible.
  • Give quiet, repetitive instructions to someone with dementia to help them remember the eating sequence.

Mental Health

Eating is an important social event. If possible, develop routines so that your senior can take part in family or group meals. Ask your senior’s G.P. for a referral to a dietician or occupational therapist if there are particular concerns with eating habits. Your in-home care service provider can also give professional suggestions to help with your personal care practices.

Image credit: "Thanksgiving dinner" (cropped) by Laura H-B. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)

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