How can I help Mom eat and sleep?

3 answers | Last updated: Nov 13, 2011
Dianemo asked...

My mother is 90 years old and has no appetite and the smell of food makes her nauseous, and she isn't able to sleep at night. She doesn't want to take sleeping pills because she doesn't want to wet the bed and refuses to wear a diaper. What can I do to help her eat and sleep? She also has macular degeneration and can barely see.

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Your mother sounds like she has several issues. I will try to break them down individually, as this will make them easier to work on.

1)Poor sleep: Many elders have poor sleep due to aging changes. The most helpful way to combat poor sleep is to improve sleep hygiene. This means going to bed and getting up the same time every day, and sleeping in a cool, dark room (no TV). About sleeping pills in the elderly, they often improve sleep initially for a few days or weeks, but after that they do not help improve quality of sleep. Also, some sleep medications can cause grogginess, which can contribute to falls. I would first try the sleep hygiene techniques, and if they do not help your mother, then she should talk with her health care provider about her poor sleep.

2) Poor appetite: Is your mother depressed? This can cause poor appetite (and poor sleep, too). This problem really needs to be checked out by her health care provider, as certain diseases can change an elder's appetite, and this should be looked into.

3) Frequent urination: Your mother may not be sleeping well if she is afraid that if she goes to sleep, she can wet the bed. If she will not wear adult briefs, perhaps you can buy a pad to put on the bed in case she has an accident. You can try getting her a commode chair next to her bed so that she can get up to the toilet quickly (without having to walk to far), which may reduce accidents. She should also talk to her health care provider about her frequent urination to see if her medications are contributing or if something medically is causing this symptom, like a urinary tract infection.

So, my advice to you is to take her to her doctor for a check-up, and talk to them about the poor sleep and appetite, as well as the frequent urination. She may be depressed, or have a urinary tract infection that may need to be treated. Good luck!

Community Answers

Tami brangham answered...

First, take your mother to a physician to make sure she does not have any health issues that may be causing these problems. They may be treatable. If these problems are not caused by illness, there is still a lot you can do to help her.

Seniors' bodies don't need as many calories. Instead of three full meals, try offering her smaller snacks more frequently. Be strategic with the foods you offer your mother to get the most out of every time she eats"”give her foods that are high in protein and nutrients. You might also want to try supplements and high-nutrient drinks such as Boost. Your mother may also feel better if you avoid cooking in her home to reduce the smells that are making her nauseous. If nothing you try helps your mother eat more, take her to a physician"”there are medications that enhance appetite.

People also sleep differently as they age. Rather than trying to get your mother to sleep through the night, focus on cumulative hours of sleep throughout the entire day, including brief naps. It is not uncommon for a senior to wake up at night to go to the bathroom and not be able to get back to sleep, but then sleep later in the day. Also, track and limit her caffeine intake"”review any medications she is taking to see if they contain caffeine. A consistent sleep schedule can help, too. As much as possible, help your mother go to sleep, wake up and nap at the same times every day. Help your mother create a calming pre-bedtime routine and eliminate stimulating activities such as television before bed.

Dianemo answered...

Thank you for your advice. My mother probably is depressed. Her husband passed away two months ago and she doesn't have anything to do all day. She is hard of hearing so the other people in the home she is in she cannot hear when they talk to her. My sister comes to see her every other day, but she is her only visitor usually. Her other children (me included) live far away and it is difficult to come to visit very often.