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Monday, 22 August 2016 00:00

Refusing food – a common problem with the elderly

Many elderly people find the challenge of preparing a meal or just eating, insurmountable, even though it offers life sustaining nutrition.  Mealtimes may evoke very positive early memories of their mother’s cooking and sitting around a table with their siblings and parents, later with their own spouse and children, now left on their own, mealtimes no longer hold any appeal, even as an essential act of keeping them alive.   
So how do you encourage someone to eat when they are refusing food?
Understandably, when a person has any form of cognitive inability brought on by dementia, the ability to understand the concept of mealtimes and prepare meals, diminishes.  Very often however, they will eat if a meal is prepared for them and if they are helped to feed themselves or are fed.  In a situation where there is no dementia present it can be a lot more challenging to convince an elderly person to eat if they are refusing to do so.   
The main cause for concern in this situation is dehydration.  Without food or drink any person can become dehydrated very quickly and in the elderly the symptoms of dehydration may be less noticeable, as very often they present as fatigue and confusion which are also caused by a number of age-related factors.   
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to getting an elderly person to eat. Often, they may not feel hungry but will still get thirsty and therefore will still accept liquids throughout the day.  Water and sips of dietary supplements that come in the form of milkshakes is definitely better than nothing at all.   
Never stop offering an elderly person food, even if they refuse to eat.  It might help to forget about any strict mealtimes that were in place, and offer just a single spoonful of yoghurt or soup - something easy to swallow, throughout the day.  This is enough to sustain someone who is not expending a lot of energy for quite a long time.   
Always stay in contact with a healthcare professional for advice and updates on the elderly persons conditions, as dehydration and exhaustion is life-threatening.   

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