Preventing malnutrition in later life

Boosting appetite for someone with dementia or a frail appetite

TASTY TOMATOE SOUP RT CMYK

Has your loved one gone off meals? Perhaps they’ve lost confidence in the kitchen? As part of Carers Week, Seniors Helping Seniors provide some great suggestions on how to rekindle their interest. Seniors Helping Seniors are an at-home care service providing support for older people in areas like meal preparation, shopping, transportation and house maintenance in east Kent. 

The whole mealtime experience is one of the most important contributions to an older person’s health and happiness. However, if your loved one is struggling in the kitchen, or not sure what to cook, here are some ideas.

Go slow…cooking

Slow cookers are a great tool because they are safe and cheap to run. Even if nothing has been cooked in the kitchen for years or the gas has been turned off for safety reasons, slow cookers are a great option. Food doesn’t burn in slow cookers (so long as they have enough liquid in them) so you don’t have to worry if the regular cooker no longer works, you can still cook safely.

Your loved one can simply plug in the cooker, just like a light, and wait to enjoy the smells and sensations of cooking.  After a fully nutritious meal, the added bonus is there’s only one pot to wipe clean!  It’s an easy way to cook tasty food that even frail appetites will appreciate. But even more useful, using a slow cooking heat creates soft food that’s much easier to chew (swallowing and chewing can become more difficult as dementia progresses for example). It also means you can use cheaper cuts of meat that would be tough through normal cooking, but which become tenderer once you’ve cooked them for hours, thereby saving your money.

All in all, slow cookers are ideal.  Meals can be set up hours in advance and left to cook away until the afternoon or early evening.

Discover food memories

Smells and tastes have the power to rekindle deep memories and wellbeing. Seniors Helping Seniors providers are passionate about food and have lots of ideas about how to stimulate appetites.  The worst thing to do is to ‘tell’ people what and how they need to eat – “that gets you nowhere” they say.   It is always best to start by stimulating appetites through memories. Talk about personal food memories, remember family gatherings and special recipes and then help produce these meals again in their own kitchens. The result? People are well nourished and excited about meal times again.   Elderly people are used to meal times organising their days and their weeks. There is loads to do around food, growing it, shopping and lots of planning and it’s very helpful to put that structure back into people’s lives, especially when food has lost its appeal through loneliness, boredom, a bout of ill health or frailty.

If you’re trying to do the same, think about what your loved one would have eaten when they were growing up.  Think classic meat and two veg – chicken pie or mulligatawny soup, and hearty desserts like jam roly poly or apple crumble. Remember, ‘foreign’ dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese or curry didn’t really become popular until the 1960s. However, even what today might be considered as ‘dated’ dishes such as prawn cocktail or quiche would probably be popular dishes for someone with dementia, as they’re more likely to have lived during that era.

Make food shopping an event

Seniors Helping Seniors providers can help with food shopping, and so making an event out of meal times is a great way to stimulate interest in food. They’ll often sit down with someone to discuss treasured recipes, write a shopping list, go shopping together or bring the ingredients in and help prepare the food.

Helping someone with dementia to cook, or encouraging them to take part in food preparation while you cook for them (even if it’s peeling carrots or stirring a cooking pot), can be extremely empowering.

Feeling inspired? Try some of these popular slow cooker recipes:

Slow cooked minestrone soup
Slow cooked Lancashire Hot Pot

A version of this article first appeared on the Seniors Helping Seniors website. 

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