Feeding an elderly patient can be a complicated process, particularly if that patient is unwilling or unable to make the situation easier because of dementia or other physical failings. Feeding is a very sensitive issue. Most people are embarrassed and feel it is not dignified to be fed. It is important for caregivers to be empathetic and aware of the delicate situation in which the feeding process places both patient and caregiver. By using gentle, non-invasive stratagems, a caregiver can make the process easier while soothing the emotions of the patient.
Eliminating Sources of Distraction
If a patient is distracted or suffers from dementia, other activities in the room can make feeding nearly impossible. Turn off the television and make sure the area is well lit so that it is easy to see what the patient is eating. Try to limit external noises, including intercoms and phone calls. Present the meal one dish at a time. This helps ensure that all food is consumed and makes the process easier.
Patients who feel rushed during the feeding process may refuse to eat. This is often a rebellious feeling if the patient perceives as a lack of regard for his dignity. Always make sure the patient washes his hands--even if he will not be using them--and that the patient is comfortable and as upright as possible. Be sure that dentures and glasses are comfortably situated. Keep a conversation going to help the patient remember what is going on and to help him stay focused. Use proper terms of address--"Mr. Smith" instead of "Bob" unless the patient has instructed you otherwise.
If the patient is at all able to to feed himself, then allow him to do so. You can help with this by making the motions that the patient should be using to convey food to his mouth, placing your hand over his to steady the food transfer process and by serving finger foods to make eating easier. Smaller spoons can help prevent choking and make the process more manageable. Straws in drinking cups help and non-stick mats hold plates and silverware in place to limit spills.
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