Helping Seniors Navigate Mealtimes Safely & With Dignity
Dinnertime can sometimes feel like wartime when caring for the elderly. Dietary & medical needs, cognitive issues, dexterity problems and complex emotional relationships combine to create a minefield which has to be navigated for everyone’s health and well-being. Here are some tips for making sure meal times can be safe and calm for everyone.
Routine, routine, routine. I make this point a lot in these blogs, but I cannot stress enough how beneficial a firm – but not totally inflexible – routine can be. Having a designated time and place for meals not only helps improve seniors’ sense of time, but it also allows their bodies proper time to digest. These routines should not be immutable – if you want to go out with friends, do so, even if it means eating a bit earlier or later – but by keeping to this schedule most of the time, you substantially cut down on meal-related disagreements and flare-ups.
Ergonomic & Safety Tableware. Even the mechanics of eating can be difficult for some seniors. Arthritic hands can’t always hold a knife and fork very well, much less bring a full glass to their lips. There are tools you can use to make mealtime less of a struggle.
- Flatware with ergonomic grips, which are typically larger, rounded & textured.
- Smaller, lighter & shatterproof drinking cups.
- “Move-resistant” plates & bowls. These typically are either heavier or have ‘grippy’ undersides, to prevent them from sliding around the table. This can also be accomplished with textured placemats.
- Plates & bowls with lips. These not only make them easier to grip and lift, but they also give you a surface to push food against.
Make sure they have a diet they can live with – Almost all of us “are on a diet,” and that includes seniors. Dietary restrictions tend to accumulate as one ages, and keeping them all in mind when meal planning can be a daunting task. But a diet which is indistinguishable from prison food helps no one. If your senior loved one has a particularly challenging set of dietary restrictions, you really may want to consult with a nutritionist. They not only can tell you what to avoid, but they can also help select foods to replace those you’ve cut out. Most of us are not professional cooks, and even a little guidance can help make mealtimes fun for everyone in the home.
Do not infantilize your senior loved ones – Reading all of these suggestions, it sometimes sounds like feeding an elder loved one is no different than feeding a child. But it’s critically important to remember not to treat them like children. They see the similarities too and are almost certainly quite sensitive to that comparison. Seniors suffer a lot of indignities, but being treated like an infant by people they very likely raised is one they should never have to deal with. No matter how difficult or frustrating mealtimes become, you must treat them with respect and dignity. In other words: how you would expect to be treated.
Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption. While you don’t necessarily have to cut alcohol and caffeine completely out of all senior diets, their systems are particularly vulnerable to those substances. Alcohol tolerance diminishes greatly as we age, including decision making sectors of the brain. Multiple bodily systems which handle caffeine – including the liver and kidneys – have a harder time dealing with it, and your neurological tolerance similarly changes as you age, so it’s effects seem amplified.
These are just some of the things you can do to help keep peace at the dinner table.
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