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Of Food, Waste and Waistlines

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​by Elizabeth Shean

Why is this moldy partial loaf of bread in the freezer? I wonder to myself. And then it hits me: Mom put it there.

As roommates go, Mom and I are pretty simpatico. We’re both quiet people who enjoy reading and watching television. We like going o​ut to eat twice a week. We used to attend performances of opera and musical theater until it became too challenging for Mom, mobility-wise.

The one area where we clash? Food.

Mom craves the familiar diet of her Midwestern youth (think casseroles, gelatin salads, cake). For her, I buy Polish sausages, Spam, tapioca pudding, instant mashed potatoes, white bread, ice cream and bags of miniature candy bars. It’s not good for her, but as she says, “When eating becomes one of your last remaining pleasures in life, why should you deprive yourself?” Even as a former nurse, I can’t argue with that. Besides, all of her cholesterol numbers remain within range, and her blood sugar is fine.

I, on the other hand, prefer a diet that consists of simply prepared fresh food. Salads, tomatoes, roasted chicken or turkey, fresh in-season vegetables, berries, grapes, oranges and the occasional piece of whole grain bread dipped in olive oil form the staples of my diet. My cholesterol numbers aren’t as good as Mom’s (which I have to say is incredibly aggravating, since I exercise daily and maintain a healthy weight), so I pay careful attention to what and how much I eat.

This diet disparity can be challenging enough in its own right, but things really turn into a battleground when you factor in our opposing attitudes toward food spoilage.

Mom thinks we waste too much food. Let me state unequivocally we do not. When you eat fresh vegetables and fruit, some of it is bound to spoil before you can consume it. I don’t feel guilty about throwing these items out.

However, Mom finds this attitude horrible. To her, no morsel should ever be fed down the garbage disposal. So she has taken to surreptitiously hiding old or spoiled food from me. I guess she figures if I can’t find it, I can’t throw it out.

So far I have found the moldy bread in the freezer, an open can of soup on a shelf in the cabinet that houses her DVD collection and a dish of days-old berries in the drawer of her nightstand.

Is this deliberate on her part, or is it a dementia behavior? I tend to think it’s a little of both, but more importantly it’s a food safety issue.

I think I’m going to enlist our CAREGiver℠, Anita, to help me ferret out Mom’s food stashes. Since Anita spends more time in Mom’s bedroom than I do, perhaps she can discreetly make routine checks of various potential food hiding spots.

Meanwhile, I’m going to be diligent about keeping the refrigerator cleaned out. I don’t want any science experiments incubating in there. Whether Mom likes it or not, the bad food must go!

I wonder what other caregivers have experienced when it comes to food hiding or hoarding by their senior family members, especially those with dementia. I’ll have to ask around. I’m betting people have some great stories to share.


Posted by Valorrie (October 27, 2016)

I don't know if this is considered food hoarding, but my father in law won't throw food away. He'll open something, take a bite, then decide he doesn't like it. He will then put it back where he found it instead of throwing it away. We now have ants and gnats thanks to this new development. It's hard to constantly behind someone and make sure they threw out their trash when you are also a new mother to a 3 month old. It seems that people with dementia/ alzheimers have weird food habits.

Posted by Elizabeth Shean (October 27, 2016)

Oh, Valorrie, the ANTS. So happy you brought this up. We likewise have ants now, because Mom doesn't understand she can't set an un-rinsed dish of ice cream (for example) in the sink and leave it there. Ironically Mom complains frequently about the ants, and I can't help but think to myself: They would go away if you would stop feeding them! Ha ha ha. I know it's not her fault, though. She does her best. I'm sure your father-in-law does his best, too, Valorrie. You are right it's challenging to care for people with dementia - and I can't imagine how you do it with an infant. Hang in there and know you're not alone in this.

Posted by Dorothy S. Craig (October 27, 2016)

Quoted from my Alzheimer webpages at . "Absolutely no one can live with an Alzheimer's victim without getting aggravated at some point. You will have mixed feelings. You love the AD victim, but his or her irritating actions will sometimes make you respond out of frustration and anger. These feelings will cause you to yell at the person you love and then later feel guilty about having done so. Many times I felt Mama did some things just to infuriate me. She would take her bath for the in-home help people, but would give me a hard time, leaving me exhausted and frustrated. She would clamp her mouth shut and would not take her medication. She would ramble through her dresser drawers in the middle of the night and leave things thrown around for me to pick up and straighten out. She would do numerous other things that would cause me to scold her or to yell out at her. It was bad enough getting up to go to work feeling exhausted, but I would also have it on my mind about having yelled at Mama and feel guilty as well. On numerous occasions Mama would hide food in her drawers or under her pillow. If I had not checked her drawers everyday to look for things we were missing or to put her clothes back in the drawers that she had taken out, we probably would have been invaded by an army of ants."

Posted by Yolanda (November 23, 2016)

My mother has had a bad habit of eating junk food before eating real food so I have to hide the chips from her.

Posted by Elizabeth Shean (November 28, 2016)

Oh, Dorothy, thank you for that! Your comments have made me feel so much better. It's so comforting to know everyone who cares for a person with dementia feels that aggravation and even sometimes says something harsh to their loved one. I do hope you'll keep sharing your thoughts on future blog topics. Your perspective is very valuable. Yolanda, hiding the chips is an excellent idea! In my case, I do the reverse: I make Mom hide the miniature candy bars. For me (and for your mother, apparently) "out of sight, out of mind" really works! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.


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