People who are ill with cancer usually lose weight and they may have problems regaining their appetites. If this is affecting your relative, check the list below to identify the reasons why they might be struggling to regain an interest in food.
– Too tired to eat.
– Too weak to manage to feed themselves.
– Generally depressed and anxious.
– Difficulty swallowing food because their mouth is dry and sore or their throat is constricted.
– Dentures no longer fit properly.
– Indigestion after eating.
– Nausea and sickness because of chemo- or radiotherapy.
– Reduced stomach capacity.
– Anxious about affecting their colostomy.
– Food tastes unpleasant.
Finding a solution
The dietary advice for many of the problems listed above is similar; however, if your relative has very marked or specific problems it may be best to seek professional help from a dietitian. For general self-help and pick-me-up tips, you could:
– ask them what foods would trigger their taste-buds, as small amounts of ‘snack’ type food may be better than a ‘proper’ meal;
– provide smaller meals on a small plate to avoid the over¬whelming sight of a normal-sized helping;
– let your relative eat on request, when he or she feels peckish;
– pack meals with interest and nutritional value, attractively pre-sented;
– keep food light – eating stodgy, hard-to-chew food saps energy quickly;
– avoid rich, spicy food if it causes nausea and irritates the diges¬tive tract; conversely if your relative’s taste is reduced, ‘pep up’ taste-buds with strongly flavoured foods;
– liquidise foods into easy-to-swallow drinks using milk or fruit juice as fluid;
– ensure food is moist as it’s easier to eat than dry food and pro¬vide a bowl of crushed ice to keep the mouth wet – fruit flavoured tastes better;
– keep the freezer well stocked with a choice of refreshing icecreams;
– try all-in-one meal drinks and use these as a drink after or instead of a meal (some makes are available on prescription);
– offer a straw if the mouth is sore or it’s easier to clrink lying down – a shorter straw needs less suction for very weak patients;
– ask the dietitian about granules that thicken liquids if too runny foods are a problem (cornflour and arrowroot work well at home);
– offer a glass of sherry as an aperitif;
– resist hassling your relative if they lose interest – a relaxed, ‘no-problem’ atmosphere is more likely to succeed;
– offer a little help (if it appears welcome) – cut up food into manageable-sized portions or feed your relative if they tire very easily;
– sit with them for a bit and share a quiet meal – it’s a good time to catch up on family news. Let them eat whilst you talk;
– increase the fibre-rich/high residue foods if constipation is a problem and speak to your doctor, a pharmacist or nurse about laxatives. The high fibre products available today are far more gentle on the bowel than some ‘opening’ medicines that older people may ask for;
– increase foods that bind the stools (reduced fibreAow residue foods) if diarrhoea is causing discomfort – and seek advice.