Maree Todd is a Geriatrician and works for Bupa New Zealand. In her regular internal newsletter, Maree shares news about nutrition, medication, health and general interest information. This season, Maree suggests some of the things you can check for if you have an elderly family member or friend that is low in weight, has poor nutrition or lacks a strong appetite.
‘Getting some of our residents to eat enough to maintain nutrition can be a challenge,’ says Maree. ‘One of the things to check are the medications the person is taking. Ask the question if any of them could be making your elderly relative anorexic? Another thing to check for is whether the medications could be interfering with taste, as that could be the cause for lack of appetite.’
Tracy Dunne from Boston University  showed that eating from brightly coloured blue or red plates and mugs increased food and fluid intake compared to the standard white plates.
‘Colour contrast is reduced in old eyes, so finding pale food, on pale plates on pale coloured table tops is a challenge for the elderly,’ says Maree.
This is one of the reasons why at Bupa Parkstone, they serve food on all sorts of coloured plates as the contrast helps to make the dish look more appealing to an elderly person and can assist in encouraging a stronger appetite.
‘It takes imagination and creativity to raise an elderly person’s appetite. Eating at a nicely set table increases intake as does sharing mealtimes with others – modelling, socialisation and supervision seem to help. Background music helps and in one study an aquarium in the dining area helped,’ says Maree.
‘Give people smaller servings – an amount that is manageable is another way. A full plate takes longer to get through and the food then gets cold. This discourages one to finish the serving. Two small warm servings would work better,’ Maree says.
‘Giving people enough time to eat and plenty of in-between snacks also helps. Good ice-cream is a health food in this situation!’