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Caregiving: Helping Someone With Eating

Topic Overview

A person who is getting care at home may need help with eating. When helping your loved one eat, be patient and give the person plenty of time. And let the person do as much on his or her own as possible. This can help your loved one feel more independent when having meals.

You can help by encouraging the person to choose healthy foods. If your loved one has had a stroke or has problems with swallowing, dental problems, or problems with thinking or memory, you may have to provide extra help with eating and getting enough nutrition. If the person has trouble swallowing, your doctor, a certified dietitian, or a speech therapist can give you specific instructions to help with eating.

Meals can be a great way to spend time together and talk. Eat with your loved one if you can. You may want to play soft music or have your mobile phone or the TV turned off. Try to create a pleasant mood during the meal.

Encourage your loved one's appetite

The person you're caring for may have a low appetite or need some encouragement to eat regularly. To help encourage your loved one to eat:

  • Offer food more often, including healthy morning and afternoon snacks.
  • Prepare a variety of food. Try to make food that looks and smells good by using different flavors and colors.
  • Ask your loved one what kinds of food he or she likes best.
  • Try serving meals in courses, one food at a time.

Help prepare for a meal

Before the meal, you may need to prepare to help your loved one eat. Here are a few tips.

  • Prepare food that's easier to chew and swallow if needed.
    • Cut or shred the food into small pieces before serving.
    • Try using canned or cooked fruits and vegetables that are soft.
    • You may need to blend or puree the food to make it easier to eat.
    • Try preparing "finger foods" that can be easily picked up and chewed.
  • If your loved one has trouble with grip,provide large-handled forks, spoons, knives, and cups that are easy to hold. Use mats and plates that won't slip.
  • Be sure to keep the food warm if preparing to eat takes a long time.

Help the person during the meal

When you help your loved one eat a meal:

  • Be sure the person is sitting up. If the person is eating in bed, prop him or her up to a raised position. For example, raise your loved one up to a 30-degree angle, which is about the height of two firm pillows. Keep the person raised at this angle for at least 1 hour after eating. This will help to prevent choking.
  • Let your loved one know how you plan to help throughout the meal. If your loved one has trouble hearing or understanding, use gestures to help communicate.
  • Be aware of the temperature of your loved one's food. Some adults may not be able to sense temperature very well, so make sure the food is not too hot.
  • Use anapkin on the person's lap or under the chin.
  • Position yourself so you're in front of the person, at eye level. You should be able to make eye contact. Don't stand over the person. It could make him or her feel uncomfortable.

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Current as ofApril 18, 2018

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse

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