Daily routines relating to preparing and consuming food reach deep into a person’s emotional life and self-image. The home cook who once kept a family fed, or the person who has lost a loved one who for decades prepared their meals, never truly adjust to losing these routines. The need to follow a restricted diet makes matters worse. Physical difficulties in handling food add an additional level of stress. The helper’s job is to alleviate that stress as much as possible.
Weakness in the arms or hands or illnesses like arthritis or stroke may make it difficult or impossible for a person to lift and use eating utensils. Dental problems or issues with false teeth may cause biting and chewing difficulties. Digestive issues play a part. Throat problems may make swallowing difficult. Loss of appetite is a serious problem. Overeating is equally serious. Slow eating, while not a true “problem,” requires patience and planning from the caregiver. Too-quick eating poses its own set of challenges.
The physical act of eating involves opportunities as well as difficulties: making sure the eating space is comfortable and welcoming. Preparing nutritionally appropriate and tasty food is just the first step. The caregiver has to present and serve that food with caring, attention, and warmth.