When I was growing up in Maryland, we lived near and frequented the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville. Next door was the Hebrew Home, to my mind a labyrinthine building with strange smells and even stranger residents.
One of those residents was Sadie Rose Weilerstein, the author of K’Tonton. As kids, we loved K’Tonton stories. K’Tonton was like the Jewish Tom Thumb, a tiny, marvelous child who always managed to get into mischievous trouble.*
Mom worked as a secretary for Mrs. Weilerstein’s youngest daughter. For reasons I don’t remember, I went several times with Mom to the Hebrew Home, and by chance, met my first famous author.
By the time I met Mrs. Weilerstein, she was suffering from some form of dementia. What is most vivid in my mind is watching her being turned away from the dining room because she’d already eaten but didn’t remember. The staff kindly escorted her back to her room. How, I wondered, could someone forget such a basic thing as having just eaten?
That memory resurfaced today when we experienced the same situation with Mom. No amount of cajoling would make her believe that she’d eaten. How do you prove to someone that their memory is faulty without insulting them?
Here’s how the conversation went.
“What should we have for lunch?” Mom asked.
“We just had lunch,” Daddy said.
“No we didn’t.
“Yes, we did.”
“I wasn’t with you. You must have eaten without me.”
“We did eat. If you don’t believe me, ask Miriam.”
“Miriam, did I eat lunch?”
“Well, yes,” I answered. “We had tomato soup and quiche. Mom, are you hungry? What does your stomach say?”
Ah, contact. Mom decided that she wasn’t hungry after all.
Many Alzheimer’s patients tend to lose their appetites. They forget how to use utensils; or they have constipation that bloats their stomachs; their medications might interfere with their eating habits; they might be full from eating multiple times a day; they are too tired to eat; or they are depressed by their situation. There are so many variables that can influence the desire for food.
As caretakers, we have the ability to make mealtimes enjoyable, social events. We must remember that mealtimes are a way to mark the passage of time, that they break the day into distinct segments. Some of these ideas may seem contradictory, but if one doesn’t work, another might. Each individual responds differently to the stimuli around them.
If someone is too tired or bored to eat, make a change in their schedule by going for a walk before the meal. Use colorful plates and napkins to inspire interest. Cut noise during the meal to a minimum to avoid distractions. Eat together so that you can model how to use a knife and fork. Offer a well-balanced diet for continued health.
Perhaps in Mom’s case, we can offer smaller portions at mealtimes and keep healthy snacks available in case she feels the urge to eat again—fruit and vegetable slices, almonds and raisins, a good cup of tea.
Mom is teaching us about the intricacies of human interaction. What is for us standard operating procedure is a complex string of mysterious social exchanges that she can’t always fathom. When we take things for granted, we miss the opportunity to follow Mom’s lead. In the case of eating, let’s be like JRR Tolkien’s Hobbits and enjoy seven meals a day: breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. What fun!
Kale is one of the most nutritious leafy vegetables out there. It is rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants, and is a wonderful supplement to any meal. Here’s an easy way to prepare it.
Sautéed Kale with Garlic
The first time I ate kale was when my friend Ephraim was visiting. He got comfortable in our kitchen and offered to show me how to cook the beautiful rainbow kale from our neighbor Faye’s garden. After that, it took me a while to find kale in the supermarket. But it is plentiful these days. Its major growing season is mid-winter to mid-spring.
1 large bunch kale leaves
2-3 cloves garlic crushed
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse kale leaves under cold water and pat dry with a towel. Cut leaves into strips. Be sure to include the stems, too. In a large pan, sauté garlic in olive oil. When oil is hot, toss in kale, salt and pepper. Cook until kale turns bright green. Remove from heat and add lemon juice (optional). Serve warm.