How to Tell If Your Parent Is Eating in Assisted Living

Our LA home for the aging ensures residents are healthy.

Photo used under Creative Commons from foodswings.

The best assisted living facilities provide nutritious meals that are designed to help older adults take in plenty of nutrients and calories. At Raya’s Paradise, we pride ourselves on our home-cooked food. However, even with delicious things to eat readily available, many people lose their appetite as they age or deal with chronic diseases. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your parent and look for signs of skipped meals during your visits.

The biggest thing to notice is whether your parent has lost weight, but this can be tricky to spot if your mother or father is already relatively thin. Keep an eye on the wrist and forearm area for signs of looser skin. Ask your parent about the fit of their dentures as well – embarrassment often prevents older adults from wanting to discuss their dentures with assisted living staff. Why is this an important detail? If your parent is dealing with sore gums or a loose fit, they may not eat as much as necessary. Issues with proper swallowing can also make it hard to eat enough every day, even with a healthy appetite. Some seniors suffer from strong coughing fits after each bite due to esophageal issues. Every now and then, share a meal with your parent to get a sense of how easy or difficult it is for them to chew and swallow their food.

Some illnesses interfere with a patient’s desire to feed themselves. Many seniors struggling with dementia, depression, digestive issues or ongoing infections spend more time pushing their food around the plate than eating it.

Each person has different nutritional needs depending on their age, health condition, level of physical activity, and digestion ability. An active senior with diabetes needs a different food plan than one who is bed-ridden resident with severe stomach problems. Ensure that your parent is seeing a dietician and that the facility is providing food that matches their needs. People who have to deal with a lot of pain when swallowing may need high-calorie foods to maximize the energy they get with each bite.

If you notice an issue, bring it up with a staff member. The care team, perhaps with input from your parent’s doctor, can come up with a solution. Depending on the particular reason why your parent isn’t eating, there are many simple tricks and strategies the staff can use to make sure they get the nutrition they need. For example, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may need to be seated facing towards the wall rather than looking out over the rest of the room, where noise and activity may distract them. It may also help these patients if staff makes sure they’re seated next to the same companions at each meal, providing a dependable routine. Staff may also serve nutritional shakes to residents who have trouble eating, to make sure they’re taking in enough calories.

The assisted living staff will also check on the eating habits of the residents, but you know your parent best. You may be able to notice subtle changes that are difficult for others to spot. These kind of observations, not just about eating but also about the state of your parent’s general well-being, can make the difference between good and excellent care. The more people watching out for them, the better off the resident will be.