by Jitka Zgola, OT
Q. My mom has AD, and has recently lost interest in eating. Is there anything I can do to improve her appetite?
A. Mealtimes serve a variety of functions for all of us. Besides nutritional intake, they can be a source of pleasure and social interaction. It is important to keep this in mind as you consider your mother's situation. Here are some steps to try in working with her at mealtime.
Cultivate an accepting and pleasant relationship with your mother during mealtimes, and encourage her to relax and enjoy your company.
Take time to sit down and eat with your mother. Your own eating will provide cues that encourage her to copy your behavior.
Involve your mother in helping prepare part of the meal. It sets the scene and creates a sense of participation. Even if your mother can do very little, she may enjoy helping you put out placemats or stir the soup.
The food itself should be appealing, even if a diet is limited by salt and sugar restrictions, or changes of texture because of swallowing or chewing difficulties. You can enhance flavors with healthy additions such as honey glazes or sauteed onions. Herbs also spark appeal. Adding a small amount of starch to pureed vegetables improves their texture.
The ultimate aim is to preserve your mother's autonomy, dignity and pleasure at mealtimes. Ask yourself a simple question "why?" each time you observe your mother struggling with or refusing a meal. This way you will be able to address obstacles instead of letting them impose dependency and erode your relationship with your mother. It might seem that these elements take effort. At the beginning they do. It is, however, a positive effort that pays off immensely. Bon appetit!
Jitha Zgola is a Canadian occupational therapist, author and international consultant who has worked for more than 15 years with people who struggle with Alzheimer's disease. This article was adapted from her newest book to be published later this summer: Bon Appetit: the Joy of Dining in Longterm, by Jitha Zgola and Gilbert Bordillon, Health Professions Press.