Of Food, Waste and Waistlines

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​​The Need for Respite Runs Both Ways

​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 out 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.

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