How can I help my mother to tell me when she is hungry?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 26, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I help my mother to tell me when she is hungry? She stares at me and doesn't say anything for hours.

Expert Answers

Deborah Cooke is a gerontologist specializing in dementia, delirium, caregiving, and senior fitness. She is a certified dementia care provider and specialist through the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Cooke currently manages several multidisciplinary programs to enhance well-being for hospitalized seniors and other vulnerable patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She also serves on the board of NewYork-Presbyterian's Patient and Family Education Advisory Committee. She has 18 years of experience working with the aging and caregiver communities.

As we get older we tend to eat and drink less. This has obvious repercussions. Your mother does need to eat and stay hydrated! If she has any kind of memory deficit, expressing she is hungry or knowing she is hungry is difficult.

You may consider setting regular meal times. Structure is important. Sit her at the table and put food in front of her. Make sure she can see the food. Having a high contrast between the plate and food is helpful. For example, if eating mashed potatoes, consider using a blue plate. You may need to cue her to eat if she is having difficulty relating the food to eating. You also may consider adding a bit of seasoning. Our taste buds become less sensitive as we get older, so food often tastes bland.

Also, make sure she is not having trouble swallowing and/or choking with the food and/or liquids. If this is the case, she may need some diet modifications to make sure the food she is eating is safe for her.

If all else fails, seek the help of her physician. There may be something else going on that needs to be addressed, and as a last resort, some medications are available to increase appetite.

I hope this helps and wish for you and your mother a nice "picnic" together.