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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 healthcare provider, a registered dietitian, an occupational therapist or a speech therapist can give you specific instructions to help ensure eating and drinking is safe.

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 flavours and colours.
    • Ask your loved one what kinds of food he or she likes best.
    • Try serving meals in courses, one food at a time.
    • Offer juice, milk, milkshakes or smoothies instead of low-energy fluids like water, tea or coffee.

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 straight. If the person is eating in bed, prop him or her up to a sitting position. Keep the person raised 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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Adaptation Date: 9/23/2021

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC