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Eating Difficulties

By  Kelly Collier, OTR 

 

Suppose the person you are caring for has not been eating well for some time now.  This is a great concern, as adequate nutrition is essential for maintaining optimal health and well-being.  Eating problems are common and can be the result of many factors.

First, consider your loved oneís medical conditions.  Has there been a new diagnosis or a change with an existing one?  Has there been a medication change?  A side effect of some medications can be a change in appetite or taste sensations.  Aging itself can result in decreased sensitivity to tastes.  Could there be an underlying problem with the mouth, tongue, teeth or dentures?  Sometimes a loss of weight can result in dentures not fitting properly, causing pain with eating.  Is there a problem with swallowing? Often, an evaluation by a Speech Language Pathologist is needed to identify the problem and make appropriate recommendations.  Any of the above problems will need to be discussed with a doctor.

Next, consider the psychological implications of not eating.  Poor eating can be the result of depression.  A change in diet, be it due to becoming a new diabetic or having to have food pureed due to a swallow problem, can cause a lack of enjoyment that was once associated with eating.  Also, eating may be one of the few things that your loved one has control over.  He may be choosing not to eat, simply because he can.  Giving him more control and choices in other areas of his life may help to improve eating habits.  If you suspect depression as a possible cause of eating difficulties, discuss it with your doctor, as there are many effective treatments available.

 Finally, is your loved one having difficulty with the physical act of feeding himself?  Weakness, decreased range of motion, impaired coordination, low vision or tremors can impair their ability to feed themselves and result in frustration and embarrassment.  There are many simple solutions for these issues. Someone having difficulty grasping a utensil may benefit from built-up handles. Tremors can be lessened by adding weight to utensils or the personís wrist, resulting in fewer spills. Handled cups with lids and spouts are also effective in lessening spills. For someone with worsening vision, increasing the contrast between the plate, food and table may allow them to see the contents of their meal a little easier.

 Providing finger foods may also help to increase independence for someone with visual or coordination impairments. A short course of Occupational Therapy may be indicated to improve arm and hand strength, range of motion, and coordination if difficulties persist.

Addressing eating difficulties as soon as they arise can prevent more serious complications in the future.

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