“Dad, this milk expired a month ago.” Yikes!

Proper Nutrition and Hydration Are KEY

Have you ever looked deeply in the fridge and found items that should have been discarded long ago? You are not alone. In a recent blog post, we talked about the importance of taking the correct medications. In the same way that the lack of attention to detail can cause chaos with medication management, proper nutrition and hydration are an ever-present challenge and concern.

Let’s discuss how you can begin to get a handle on managing your loved ones’ groceries, meals, and hydration.

Regularly Clean Out the Fridge

Why do manufacturers make the expiration dates on food product packaging so difficult to see? Most often, when you can actually find it, it’s very small. On my own yogurt containers, I’m moving my “trifocals” around to find dates that can look like a secret NASA code. It’s unlikely that our elder loved ones, often with poorer vision than ours, are going to see these dates. With changes in appetite, some food items may sit for far too long and become spoiled. If your loved one has a visual or scent deficit, being clear on what food or drink should be consumed can get blurry.

Many local specialty markets package individual meals that can be heated in toaster/microwave ovens. Keeping these packages clearly marked and organized by expiration date in the refrigerator is necessary. However, keep in mind that while a full refrigerator is likely to make us feel good in that our elder loved ones have a lot to select from, it may overwhelm them and be counterproductive. Tweak this process as necessary, and plan to have a family member go through their fridge on a weekly basis to purge all outdated items.

Appetites, caloric needs, and dental issues impact elders even when there is no apparent cognitive impairment. Add in memory loss or confusion, and quality regular nutrition becomes a complex problem. Your father may love a perfectly cooked steak, but his declining dental health or ill-fitting dentures may make his favorite meal too difficult to manage.

Watch For Signs of Dehydration

Managing your elder’s hydration is another key element of their overall health. Most of us, including our elders, need to drink more water. Many factors influence our elders being in a state of continual dehydration, such as:

  • They may not feel thirsty. Once your thirst is activated, you are already heading for dehydration.

  • If your elder takes a diuretic medication, which helps the body remove fluid through increased urine production, they may limit their own fluid intake to avoid any issues of urinary incontinence or “accidents.”

Take an Inventory and Make Your Plan

We must be aware of the issues our elders are experiencing in order to consider how to best provide high-quality nutrition and hydration. Having a basic understanding of these issues is key to creating a solution to the problem. One’s own nutrition and hydration are a basic function of self-care, and self-awareness of a decline in these areas may be difficult to cope with. Remember in your intervention that this may be a sensitive subject, and you may hear the proverbial “I’m fine.” Move forward with your plan patiently, gently, and with humor when possible. This approach may allow your loved one to better receive your help, and not feel defensive or as if they have failed at providing for themselves.

As we have said all along in our columns, start this process by taking an inventory to clearly understand your loved one’s obstacles:

  • Are there dental or swallowing issues to consider?

  • Are there sensory deficits: visual, taste, smell, or temperature?

  • Have preferences changed?

  • Is eating/drinking the issue or is it preparation?

  • Is it memory related? Are they not hungry or just forgetting to eat?

  • Are there issues that they are not willing to share with you?

  • Do they need medical attention to diagnose a possible issue?

Ask For Help

There are support services available in your community that can help. Meals on Wheels is a service provided by SeniorCare, Inc. in Gloucester and Beverly. Call them at 978-281-1750 and ask for information on their meal delivery program. If the thought of how to solve this problem in your family is overwhelming, Aberdeen Home Care offers case management and nutritional consultation with Registered Dietitians to create customized solutions.

Appetizing, good tasting meals are something our elders can really enjoy and look forward to.

Let’s bring the words Bon Appetite back to the table.

Written by Joanne MacInnis, RN and Certified Dementia Practitioner.

Originally published in the Manchester Cricket Newspaper, June 2018. 

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