COPD is a wide-spread, debilitating lung disease that makes breathing more difficult over time. I've personally experienced how devastating COPD is to our loved ones. Caring for those with chronic bronchitis and emphysema creates challenges for your organization and direct care staff.
Symptoms interfere with daily activities like walking, eating and self-care and continue to increase in severity. Elders with COPD are also at a much higher risk of malnutrition, falls, infections and hospital stays.
Educating caregivers to manage meals with these simple techniques can increase comfort and improve nutritional health. Continue reading to learn more.
Managing food choices, the timing of meals and how the elder is positioned can improve COPD symptoms – and overall nutritional health.
Oxygen Fuels the Body
With COPD, less air flows in and out of the lungs. They lose the ability to take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, as a waste product. The body needs oxygen to digest food, help the brain function and fuel every cell in the body.
Beat Mealtime Fatigue
Those with COPD must work harder to breathe- taking energy away from other activities. And symptoms like chronic coughing, heavy breathing and fatigue makes it hard and exhausting to eat. Poor nutrition lessens an elder’s strength, mobility, immune defense and overall vitality.
Follow these tips to help an elder beat mealtime fatigue:
Eat when energy is the highest – usually in the morning. Serve a hearty breakfast to get a jump start on calorie and nutrient needs.
Eat small, frequent meals that are high in calories and key nutrients.
Serve easy-to-chew foods. Modify food’s texture if chewing takes too much energy.
Include pureed soups, smoothies and nutritional drinks that can easily be swallowed.
Rest before meals.
If oxygen therapy is prescribed, use it while eating.
Don’t waste energy on empty calories. Learn which foods pack key nutrients for COPD.
Increase Comfort at Mealtimes
Eating can also be extremely uncomfortable for those with COPD. A full stomach, gas or bloating from certain foods and beverages, or certain body positions may place extra pressure on the lungs.
To lessen discomfort, make these suggestions:
Eat small meals or snacks more often; stop when just full and avoid overeating. Encourage extra calories from nutrient-dense foods.
Eat slowly and chew small bites to avoid swallowing extra air.
Avoid fried or greasy foods, beans, broccoli or other foods that may cause gas and bloating.
Carbonated beverages and filling up on fluids can create uncomfortable feelings. Sip beverages between meals to loosen mucus and lessen pressure on the stomach and lungs.
Encourage the elder to sit upright at a table. This creates more space for the stomach, diaphragm and lungs to expand and lessens the chance of choking on food.
Changes to physical health, loneliness and depression can all lead to loss of interest in eating and poor appetite. Make sure to include favorite and comforting foods, even if you must adjust the ingredients or texture. Remember to season dishes well and use aromatic ingredients (onions, garlic, herbs and spices) to stimulate the appetite. Finally, invite family or friends to share in meals or sit with the elder to encourage him to eat more.
More Helpful Tips
Stock the refrigerator and pantry with simple “grab and go” meals. This helps the elder save energy for eating, rather than shopping for or preparing foods. Include healthful options like (canned) reduced sodium vegetables and fruit without added sugars. Include high protein choices and plenty of healthy fats from fish, avocado or nuts.
Damage from COPD can’t be reversed, but symptoms can be managed, and mealtimes improved. Make an effort to implement the above points. Take pride in knowing that you can help your clients enjoy their meals, improve nutritional health and have energy for activities they enjoy most.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. COPD. 19 March 2018. Web. 1 Feb. 2019. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/copd
Cleveland Clinic. Nutritional Guidelines for People with COPD. No Date. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9451-nutritional-guidelines-for-people-with-copd
Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP, is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She is passionate about empowering caregivers to make positive nutritional changes and mealtime meaningful for those in their care. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.