Some patients find that their feelings about food change while undergoing end-of-life care. They may suffer from nausea, depressio n, pain, difficulty swallowing, or other symptoms that cause their appetite to diminish or disappear completely. They may even find food unappealing.
However, it is important to remember that this is normal. As body processes slow, the body’s need for calories decreases over time. Sometimes the body doesn’t have the energy required to process food. Lack of interest in food is the body’s natural defense to avoid un necessary or harmful habits.
Caregivers want patients to be as comfortable as possible, but they also worry about patients’ nutrition. Using IV therapy or tube fe eding can provide nutrition. But these methods may prove uncomfortable or traumatic to patients. Though patients’ eating habits may c hange, caregivers can use the following strategies to keep up patients’ nutrition.
- Serve smaller meals. Instead of trying to stick to the traditional three meals a day, caregivers can provide loved ones s everal small, frequent meals throughout the day. These meals consist of light food in small portions. This way, patients don’t feel overwh elmed by the food on their plate. If a patient can’t finish all their food, small portions minimize any embarrassment he or she might have felt.
- Blend together food. When caregivers liquefy food, patients who have a hard time swallowing may better enjoy their f ood. Eventually, some caregivers serve food in a sippy cup to help patients drink without worrying about spilling.
- Time meals. Caregivers try to serve meals at a time of day when the patient feels his or her best. Some patients have t he most energy or feel the least amount of pain during mornings and mid-afternoon, or after taking their pain medications.
- Give patients control over their eating habits. After some time, caregivers may realize that forcing a loved one to eat is n’t working. It may be best to let the loved one eat what and when they want. To encourage adequate nutrition, caregivers make sure t heir patients understand they haven’t disappointed the caregiver when they decide not to eat.
- Try other things. If caregivers discover that regular food doesn’t suffice, they may try serving foods such as baby food, protein supplements, or instant breakfast. Ice chips may help patients who experience dry mouth, but who aren’t willing to eat.
- Overcome nausea. If a patient feels nauseated at the sigh t or thought of food, providing specific options may help. Serving cooler foods or liquid foods, such as yogurt or cold soup, can help co mbat nausea. On the other hand, strong smelling foods may cause nausea, so caregivers should avoid those foods.
- Choose easy, high-calorie foods. Caregivers may rely on food such as pudding, jello, and ice cream that is easy to eat and provides many calories for less food. However, most caregivers avoid foods with lots of spices or seasonings, as well as greasy food o r salty food because they compromise patients’ health.
- Provide good mouth care. The better patients’ mouths feel, the more likely they are to feel like eating. Even when a pa tient isn’t eating regularly, caregivers must help him or her practice good mouth care to prevent painful oral problems.
Some caregivers find it helpful to talk with dieticians to find the unique need of the patients. Dieticians can evaluate patients’ current health to determine what nutrition is right for them. They can even suggest foods that provide nutrition and make it less painful for pati ents to eat food. Dieticians and hospice caregivers frequently work together to provide as much comfort as possible to patents, while still ensuring they receive vital nutrition.