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Older Seniors eat less, but need quality nutritious foods

Adventures in Eldercare August 2013

Last July, I wrote about my then 13 year old Golden Retriever Rocky and the response to that article was overwhelming. People like Dogs! I also find that we can really learn a few things from the older dogs that we care for. Rocky is 14 now and has some heart and breathing issues, weakness and very arthritic hips. He does not have a lot of ‘get up and go’ anymore as you would expect from a dog that is equal in age to a 98 year old man. Rocky has always been a robust eater. Over the last year he is eating less and less and I have even taken to watching

over him to make sure he at least gets a few mouthfuls of food in him every day. The last time I was watching him eat, he peaked up at me to see if he could stop, I shook his bowl, he looked at his food then back at me. It was a food bowl stare off!! I succumbed, he had had a bit and I felt that he knew instinctively how much food he needed. I trusted his judgment.

This really got me thinking about how we treat the elderly and food, especially the very old or the very sick. Our company works with seniors’ everyday and one of our tasks is often to ensure that they eat a sufficient amount of food. Of course our staff is well trained, they understand portion size and dietary requirements. Older seniors require less food, but they do need nutritious well-balanced quality food in those smaller portions.

One of the issues that comes up over and over again with older seniors, especially older seniors that are ill, is that they are asked to and expected to eat much more food that they really need. I witnessed this problem within my own family when my father was dying of Pancreatic Cancer in 1999. We are of Italian decent and as many of you are aware, Italians like to eat. So my father was bombarded by gifts of food, invitations to dinners and my mother would spend hours in the kitchen cooking his ‘favorite meals’. This food was often wasted on Dad. He had terrible gas after eating and he had no appetite, yet cultural norms had him sitting at the table with a plate in front of him that a 50 year old would have trouble finishing. It happened over and over again. The culture of sharing a meal trumped the fact that my father was dying. This is a lose-lose situation. Dad felt terrible that he could not eat and my mom felt she had not made the dish properly, that he did not like it. Everyone was frustrated!

Older seniors, especially terminally ill seniors require a very small amount of good nutritious food on a regular basis, that just biology. They don’t need big lavish meals and they especially don’t need the pressure that society puts on them to eat these large rich meals. Many may say that the meal is a shared experience and I must say to that, then dig deep and think of another way to share time with them. At a certain point meals can become very difficult and messy; this is not the type of experience the senior wants to share with others. In my experience what an older ill seniors needs is company, a warm loving hand holding theirs, a shared experience like a car ride to the lake or enjoying a couple hours on the front porch with a loved one or friend.

If you are planning an outing with an older senior that still enjoys a dinner out with company then please do so, but in your planning, consider portion size. The thought of a fancy buffet meal at the Mandarin may sound appealing to some but it could be absolutely frightening to a senior that usually has half a piece of toast and a single poached egg for dinner. The last time I took my 80 year old mother out for dinner we had chicken noodle soup at Tim Horton’s, she loved it, and then we went for a short walk.

Dr. Bruce Veltri operates Victoria Eldercare, a non-medical home care agency matching exceptional care-givers with elderly seniors, to help them maintain independence and remain safely in their own home. Victoria Eldercare is conveniently located in the new Roulston’s Wellness Centre on Donly Drive in Simcoe. Call 519-429-2644 or visit our web-site, for more information about our services.

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