It’s All about the Food (and the Drink)!

We all love to eat, right? And there is nothing like home cooking, sharing a meal with family and friends, teasing mom about whether her pumpkin pie this year is as good as last year’s! You know, all the things we hold so dear to us seem to happen in the kitchen and around the dining room table.
Food and the importance of mealtime becomes a total obsession for many older adults as they move into senior housing facilities, assisted living/board and care facilities, and even skilled nursing facilities. Stop to think about it – what do so many older adults who can no longer stay at home and now have some mass-producing kitchen making all of their meals have to focus on? Well, it’s the food, meals, and the complaints about all of it! It’s probably one of the areas that family and friends hear the most about after they move a loved one into a community living environment.

At Helping Hearts Foundation, we understand how important food is. We all want to have the comfort of knowing we can still have our favorite foods, meals, and time to sit with family and friends to enjoy the time around the dinner table sharing stories, reminiscing, and just being together.
With our team, the questions they ask you and your loved one about food likes and dislikes, what time of day you’re used to eating, what kind of snacks do you enjoy, how important is it that family and friends can come and dine with the person in the facility – all of those questions become very important to us as we strive to help you and your loved one find the perfect place to live.

Now please be aware that there is little anyone can do when it comes to learning how to adjust to living in community, a place that has a schedule of mealtimes, a kitchen that cooks for the masses with many foods your loved one may not be used to, but we try our best to take personal preferences into account and let the facility know about those likes and dislikes.

When our caregivers are providing in-home care support to your loved one, and it’s a one-on-one situation in a person’s private home – well, then all of those personal likes and dislikes are so very important to how our caregivers support the person. If you need our caregivers to assist with food preparation and mealtimes, the more we know about personal preferences the better. Our caregivers are able to go shop for those favorite food items, discuss how best to prepare the food to the person’s liking, set out the placemat, dishes, silverware, and glassware. We’ll do whatever we can to make the food and mealtime enjoyable, comfortable, inviting, and meaningful.

Some of our caregivers are true foodies! (I know – I hear we are suppose to stop using this overused “foodie” word!) But, it’s true – they love food, they love new recipes, they love to cook and bake, and it can be a match made in heaven (an old expression of success!) when we can find a caregiver who can really help make your loved one feel like they’re being treated to the foods they love each day. Many of our caregivers will go out of their way to make sure they learn a new favorite recipe for their client. And it becomes great fun to see if our Helping Hearts caregiver can match the taste of “mom’s own pumpkin pie!”

While we are talking about food and eating, check with your loved one’s doctor to see how many calories per day the medical team thinks is important for your loved one to have. Our calorie needs do change over time with age and medical conditions. And, ask about how different medications can impact the desire to eat and the taste of food. We hear so often that an older person just “doesn’t feel like eating, that nothing tastes good.” Much of the lack of appetite or desire to eat can come from the medication side effects that a person is taking. If you know that may be happening, then you can discuss ways to work around that – maybe find a different way to flavor the food with spices, like broths and such to make it a bit more appealing.

Remember color and presentation of food on a plate is important as well. I know of one client who didn’t want to eat, totally refused to eat most meals. Well, I asked the family what dishes, glassware, and silverware mom usually used when company came over. I changed out the dishes, dressed up the table a bit, found a single stem flower to sit by her placemat, and guess what? Meals became an even! The visual look of the table reminded her of family meals and the special time of sharing together. She started eating again! Success! While it’s not always this simple, our caregivers do all they can to find that kind of success with each person.

Let me shift to drinks and fluids. Even if your loved one is not eating as much as they should, don’t forget the fluids! Fluids can almost be more important, at times, than caloric intake. So, push those fluids! Water, flavored waters, vitamin water, lemonade, broths, milk, juice, tea, coffee, products such as Ensure, soups – whatever you can get into the person throughout the day is very important to basic bodily functions (hate seeing an older person struggle with urinary tract infections or constipation, often due to lack of fluid intake) as well as ensuring medications work properly. Those meds need fluid moving through the body in order to work as they are meant to work. So, as I just said, push those fluids! And, don’t forget the ice cream! Yup, ice cream melts so quickly once inside a human body. After all, it’s a fluid! (Can you tell that I love ice cream?)

One last point, because I can already hear folks saying, “Yes, but, my loved one’s stroke, Parkinson’s, dementia, etc….they can’t swallow liquids, they choke! They can barely swallow food!” Yes, medical conditions can be a true complication to getting food and fluid into a person making each meal and drink a true challenge (it’s frustrating!). Working with the medical team, having swallow tests done by a speech therapist, and talking with a dietitian/nutritionist are all important people to talk with to get their insights of what’ll work for your loved one when there are complicating medical conditions. You may find out that food has to be pureed, liquids have to be thickened with a thickening agent, and you may have to introduce totally new foods (such as yogurt) that your loved one has never eaten before. All challenges to be dealt with.

So, you thought the idea of eating and drinking were such easy things to handle – well, not when someone is struggling with a health condition, various medications, living in a facility…you get it.

Let Helping Hearts Foundation and our team of caregivers and staff help you through the maze of food and drink! We’ll do all we can to help ensure you and your loved one get the care and support you need, be an advocate with your medical team, and see if we can learn to make mom’s favorite meal just the way she likes it!

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