Elder Chow: the care and feeding of frail elderly

aging man with walkerAging is such a bitch. You hear terms like “healthy aging” but what it boils down to is at about 30 you start to decline, bit by bit, at first so slowly you don’t even notice, but gaining speed as you go. Muscle is lost, Bone becomes brittle, perceptual acuity is lost, speed, strength, coordination all decline. Digestion, elimination, and thinking slow down. And that’s “healthy aging.” Then if you get some disease on top of being old, you can have other problems as well, for example, not tolerating foods that you used to pig out on. At some point you can’t really be trusted to take care of yourself. That’s where my parents are right now. Neither can walk without a walker. Simple things such as putting on a belt or shaving baffle them or seem hopelessly difficult. Dad can no longer write his own name. I am charged with taking care of them for a period of time. I wrote a very personal account of what a day taking care of them is like. Read it to commiserate if you’ve ever been involved with care and feeding of helpless elderly. Read it if you haven’t, because some day, chances are you will.  Just read it to educate yourself. You’d be amazed what a hurdle a crack in the sidewalk is for an elderly person.

This blog post goes into more detail about their food–basically rather bland and boring. Mom, always the one with the adventurous palate, has had to curtail her list of approved foods, due to gastric reflux, partial regurgitation, and compression of the gut brought about by multiple osteoporotic compression fractures of the vertebrae. Many things disagree with her or cause unpleasant after effects. Dad just sort of always preferred boring foods to begin with, even though he can pretty much eat whatever he wants. Luckily, thanks to 20th century dentistry, they both have enough teeth left to eat corn-on-the-cob.

Food for old people looks good When you are young, you can basically eat crap for several years on end and your youth will protect you. When you are older, your food affects you directly and immediately. You need to eat small quantities of healthy food, and you need to do it frequently. Mom has been experimenting with ayurvedic food combining. She believes that waiting 90 minutes between consuming yogurt and pears has decreased the amount of regurgitating. Now she won’t eat her totally healthy hemp bread moistened with smart balance at the same sitting as her split pea soup, and she also needs to wait another 90 minutes before eating the apples. She has certainly turned from a 3-meal a day die-hard into a grazer.

What have we got here?  Well,  we try to take advantage of abundant local Kansas produce, so it’s a summery menu:

  • tuna salad
  • bitter greens (for me)
  • melon
  • boiled egg for Mom
  • potato soup with cilantro
  • corn on the cob
  • cucumbers
  • romaine salad with tomato and avocado
  • stewed prunes for Dad for the obvious reason

Nothing exotic, or gourmet, but I do what I can to make it look appealing.   Presentation is a great part of the enjoyment of food. It is especially important for the elderly. Thanks to Mom and Dad’s diet of simple, mostly fresh food, they are “healthy” modulo all their issues relating to aging.  As if they could ever even get close to anything this good in a “place.”

1,763 Responses to “Elder Chow: the care and feeding of frail elderly”

  • I loved your piece, it was touching. Taking care of the elderly is hard work, emotionally and physically. I only hope that when I get there I go quick (I can’t stand being sick/needing help) or I have enough money to pay for a nicer place so I don’t burden my children too much financially etc. and they don’t have to worry about my treatment.

  • admin:

    Thanks for your comment Corrine. All support is much appreciated. Taking care of my folks for 2 weeks is the least I can do for them after what they did for me. The hardest part is first you’re the child and they are these big strong protective creatures that are too busy looking out for you to be “friends.” Then you grow up, and you are peers with them and you can enjoy each other as adults. And I guess now they are in their second childhood, because I just don’t relate to them as adults any more and I really miss that. There was a transitional period where they would go back and forth, and they both ranted and raved each in their way and resented what they could sense they were losing, but they have both come to terms with it now, one way or another. BTW as far as I am concerned, retirement communities are OK, but once you start needing significant help there is no such thing as a “nice place.”