What To Eat When Nothing Tastes Good
When Eating Healthy and Love Collide.
I read lots of articles telling me how important it is for my elderly parents to eat a balanced diet. I know it’s true. I know it’s well meant advice, but here in the trenches, it’s not that easy. When you reach your 90’s shouldn’t you get to eat what you want?
We’ve gone through a variety of dietary changes in the eight and a half years caring for my parents. There was an initial adjustment trying to mesh our two different eating styles. My parents eat meat and potatoes, veggies on the side and always a dessert. My husband and I tend to eat more ethnic foods–not exotically ethic, that would be our kids, but my parents don’t even like tacos or anything spicy. We eat more vegetables and we like then crisp, not mushy. Dessert is a treat. Try to keep everyone happy in that scenario!
Lately, the changes have been rapid. My mom decided she didn’t like foods she’d eaten for years, no spaghetti, rice or pasta. They make her choke, she says, yet she eats peanuts, popcorn and loves Cheetos. My dad lost his sense of smell and can’t taste. He has no idea if he is eating beef, chicken or pork. Neither like vegetables anymore, except in salads.
Both parents have choking problems and are on a swallowing protocol. They can’t talk and eat at the same time, so dinner is now a quiet meal. Mom chokes at every meal. Lately, nothing tastes good to her but sweets. She likes soft foods, like mashed potatoes but give them mashed sweet potatoes they can’t figure out why I’m feeding them Thanksgiving food. Neither parent can cut their own meat now. They only like soft, white bread. Due to her blindness, dementia, and arthritis my mom has trouble with utensils and getting the food to her mouth. She uses toddler utensils with short, fat handles. Sadly, I’ll look over and see she is using her spoon upside down. Finger foods are best. Her favorite foods are bananas, tiny, easy-peel oranges and pudding cups.
She told us she will die if she doesn’t eat a banana every day. We thought she was kidding but if we run out of bananas, she’s upset–I mean very upset. A scrambled egg is OK, but her favorite breakfast is plain oatmeal. I make the steel-cut oat kind and add apples, pears and dried fruits for fiber Most days she prefers the instant oatmeal her caregiver makes for her. I actually think she prefers instant oatmeal. Cold cereal is out.
It’s hard to watch her eat. She repeatedly dips her fork or spoon to her plate and brings it empty to her mouth. We give her plates with bumpers on the sides to make it easier to scoop up the food but it’s still a struggle. Food in a small toddler-sized bowl works better. I’d feed her, but if she can still feed herself, even if it takes a long time, I’ll let her do it. Being fed, to me, seems like a last indignity. Often my dad will help her with the last few bites she can’t seem to corral. It has become a little ritual for them. Weirdly, we have to give my dad oversized utensils. His large hands and Parkinson’s tremors don’t work with regular sized spoons, so he eats with a soup spoon.
Mom pockets food in her cheeks and forgets it’s there. She adds more bites until her mouth if crammed and it sets off a mighty round of choking. It’s hard remaining calm when she starts to turn purple. Thankfully, she hasn’t gotten aspiration pneumonia from food down her trachea. It’s always a risk, though.
A speech therapist worked with my parents in our home. She gave them tips, exercises and strategies for safe eating. It helped Dad a lot. Mom can’t remember. The dementia causes her to forget. Plus people with dementia lose the dexterity to swallow. Swallowing requires a complex series of muscle movements working in synch. Dementia steals the ability to do those steps. Mom had a swallowing test done under fluoroscopy. They let me watch. Her problems were obvious. They will get worse as her disease progresses. We will work to adapt because that’s what we do, don’t we?
There are many scholarly articles on dementia and swallowing problems but this article is easy to understand.