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When Elderly Clients Refuse to Eat

Home carer giving elderly lady cup of tea

At Access Care, we have over 30 years experience in providing the highest quality live-in care to our home care clients. 

Taking care of an elderly client as a live-in carer is a rewarding role, but it also can come with its challenges.  One of the most common and concerning challenges that may arise is if a live-in care client refuses to eat or eats very little compared to usual. This situation can be worrying not just for you but also for the live-in care client's family members. 

If you've found yourself in this challenging position, this Access Care guide aims to provide you with practical advice and tips as well as actionable steps to help you manage and improve the situation.

Understanding the Importance of Nutrition

Proper nutrition is very important for maintaining the health and well-being of our elderly live-in care clients. Malnutrition can lead to all sorts of problems like a weakened immune system, decreased muscle strength, and can even affect their cognitive ability. Therefore, ensuring that your live-in care client has a balanced diet is essential for their overall quality of life.

What Could be the Reason Behind a Client Refusing to Eat?

There could be several reasons behind why a live-in care client is refusing to eat. Taking the time to understand the root cause is the first step in addressing the issue effectively.

Physical Factors

Physical issues like dental problems, trouble swallowing, or chronic illnesses can make eating uncomfortable or painful for elderly home care clients. Getting a thorough medical check-up can usually uncover these underlying problems that need to be fixed. The first step if your home care client is refusing to eat should be to get them an appointment with their GP.

Emotional and Psychological Factors

Depression, loneliness, and anxiety are common among the elderly and can really affect their appetite. Social isolation can also play a role, especially for home care clients who have recently lost a loved one or are experiencing a big life change.

Medication Side Effects

Certain medications can affect a person’s appetite or cause stomach issues, making eating less appealing. Reviewing your home care client’s medication with their healthcare provider can help identify and mitigate these side effects.

Conditions That Can Cause an Elderly Person to Stop Eating

Understanding the specific medical conditions that could cause a live-in care client to stop eating is important. 

Here are some of the most common conditions that may cause a person’s appetite to be reduced:


Dementia can cause big changes in eating habits. Home care clients with dementia may forget to eat, experience a loss of taste and smell, or have difficulty with coordination, making it hard for them to feed themselves.

Gastrointestinal Issues

There are some conditions like acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or gastroparesis that can make eating painful or uncomfortable for those living with them. Chronic constipation or other digestive issues can also have an impact on a person’s appetite.


Cancer and its treatments can often have a big effect on a person’s appetite. Not only can the disease itself cause nausea and discomfort, but treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can lead to severe appetite loss and taste changes.

Chronic Pain

Elderly clients who may be experiencing chronic pain from conditions like arthritis or neuropathy may find it difficult to eat. The pain can be distracting or debilitating, making them not want to eat.

Infection or Acute Illness

Infections like UTIs or respiratory infections can affect a person’s appetite. Also, illnesses such as the flu or pneumonia can make eating less appealing.


Dehydration can make you less hungry and also cause swallowing problems. Older adults might not notice when they're thirsty, so they drink less water and eat less. It is important to work with other healthcare professionals to try and identify and treat these issues to help improve eating habits and overall well-being in elderly live-in care clients.

Signs of When You Need to Take Urgent Action

Recognising when a live-in care client's refusal to eat has become an emergency is crucial for their well-being. 

Here are some signs to look out for that could mean it’s time to take urgent action:

Rapid Weight Loss

If your home care client is losing weight quickly and noticeably, this is usually a sign that they are not eating enough, but can also be a sign of an underlying condition that needs a medical evaluation. Rapid weight loss can lead to muscle wastage, weakened immune response, and a decline in overall health.

Severe Dehydration

Symptoms of severe dehydration are: dry mouth, sunken eyes, urinating less often, and dark-coloured urine. Dehydration can make the symptoms of other conditions worse (such as dementia) and should be looked into quickly.

Persistent Fatigue

Extreme and persistent fatigue can be a sign of inadequate nutrition, dehydration, or an underlying medical condition. If your live-in care client appears unusually tired and lethargic, it’s time to seek medical attention promptly.

Changes in Cognitive Function

Confusion, disorientation, or sudden cognitive decline can be a sign of malnutrition, dehydration, or other serious health issues. If your live-in care client shows noticeable changes in their cognitive abilities, book an appointment with a healthcare professional to get them checked over.

Severe Constipation

While mild constipation is relatively common, severe constipation does need immediate attention. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, and infrequent bowel movements. Chronic constipation can lead to discomfort and a reduced desire to eat in live-in care clients.

Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)

If your live-in care client is having trouble swallowing, it can pose a significant risk for malnutrition and dehydration, as well as choking hazards. Your live-in care  client needs to urgently see a healthcare professional to address and manage dysphagia effectively.

Worsening of Chronic Conditions

If you notice a deterioration in any chronic conditions your live-in care client has, like diabetes or heart disease, this may be linked to poor diet. It’s essential to speak with their healthcare provider to adjust their care solutions as needed.

Signs of Depression or Severe Anxiety

Rapid changes in mood, withdrawal from social interactions, or expressions of hopelessness signal the need for urgent mental health support. Depression and severe anxiety can have a big impact on their nutritional intake and overall health.

Unexplained Pain

New or unexplained pain, whether it’s acute or chronic, might mean there is an underlying problem that needs urgent action. Pain can be a real barrier to eating, so looking into it promptly is crucial.

If you see any of these signs in your elderly live-in care client, it’s super important to contact their healthcare provider without delay. Quick intervention can help to stop further decline and improve their quality of life.

Building a Comfortable Eating Environment

Creating a nice and comfortable environment to eat in can go a long way in encouraging your live-in care client to eat.

Setting the Scene

A pleasant and comfortable place to eat can make mealtimes more appealing and enjoyable for your live-in care client. Here are some tips for creating an inviting atmosphere:

Eliminate Distractions

Try to minimise noise and other distractions during mealtimes. Turn off the television, radio, or other electronic devices that might take their attention away from eating. A quiet and calm environment can help your live-in care client focus on their meals.

Comfortable Seating

Make sure that the seating arrangement is comfortable and supportive. Chairs with armrests and proper back support can make a big difference, especially for live-in care clients with mobility issues or chronic pain.

Good Lighting

Proper lighting is also needed for creating a welcoming atmosphere and helps live-in care clients with visual impairments. Natural light is ideal, but if that's not possible, make sure that the dining area is well-lit with soft, non-glare lighting.

Table Setting

A well-set table can make mealtimes feel special and more structured. Use clean, attractive tableware and you could also try adding small touches like a tablecloth or place mats. By doing that bit extra you can make the dining experience more pleasant for your live-in care client.

Pleasant Aromas

The smell of freshly-prepared food can do wonders for a person’s appetite. Try to think of meals that smell particularly delicious when cooking. However, be mindful of any specific aversions or allergies your live-in care client may have.

Eating with others can enhance the meal experience and encourage better eating habits. If possible, you could arrange for family members, friends, or carers to join your live-in care client during meal times. Having company during dinner can make the mealtime lots more enjoyable for everyone involved!

Creating a comfortable eating environment tailored to your live-in care client's needs and preferences can really enhance their dining experience, and ultimately have a positive effect on the amount that they eat. 

Other Important Things to Consider 

Personalising Meals

Always try to be mindful of your live-in care client’s favourite foods and meals when preparing them something to eat. By offering them meals that they enjoy, it can make them more inclined to eat. Also always try and be considerate of their cultural background and favourite dishes from their past.

Small, Frequent Meals

Offering smaller meals and snacks more regularly for your live-in care client can be less overwhelming and more manageable for them. This approach can also help maintain their energy levels throughout the day.

Nutrient-Dense Foods

Choose foods that are rich in essential nutrients to help meet their dietary needs even if they eat smaller portions. Some examples include fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. You could also try adding in some healthy fats like avocado or olive oil which can help increase calorie intake without adding a lot of volume.

Easy-to-Eat Options

Prepare meals that are easy to eat, especially if your live-in care client has difficulty when chewing or swallowing. Soft foods like soup, mashed potatoes, yoghurt, and smoothies can be really great choices. Cut foods into bite-sized pieces or you could also consider pureeing them if needed.

Hydration Focus

Encourage your client to drink regularly but offering them water, herbal teas, or fruit juices. By giving your live-in care client hydrating foods like watermelon, cucumbers, and oranges you can also help prevent dehydration.

Positive Reinforcement

Encourage eating with positivity! Give praise for their efforts and show excitement about the food. Small rewards or words of encouragement can really make mealtime a positive experience.

Consult a Dietitian

You might want to have a chat with a dietitian who specialises in nutrition for older adults. They can give you meal plans and tips tailored to your live-in care client’s specific needs and tastes.

Monitoring Progress

Always try and keep track of what your live-in care client is eating and any changes in their appetite or weight. Make sure to keep an eye on their overall health and adjust their care solutions as and when needed.

Addressing Emotional and Psychological Barriers

Understanding and addressing the emotional and psychological barriers to eating that your live-in care client may be feeling is very important. 

Professional Support

Consider involving a psychologist or counsellor to address any underlying emotional or psychological issues. Sometimes, a mental health professional can provide the support needed to overcome these barriers.

Encouraging Physical Activity

Physical activity can really help to work up an appetite. Gentle exercises, walks, or even light stretching can make a big difference.

Routine and Consistency

Try and make a mealtime routine that you and your live-in care client find easy to stick to. This helps create a sense of normalcy and predictability, which can be comforting for elderly clients.

Collaborating with Healthcare Providers

Working closely with healthcare providers is essential in managing and addressing eating issues.

Regular Health Check-Ups

Make sure that your live-in care client has regular health check-ups with their GP to monitor their overall health and help address early  any issues that may crop up.

Medication Review

Review your live-in care client’s medication list with their healthcare provider to identify any that might be affecting their appetite. There may be room for adjustments or there may be alternatives available.

Nutritional Supplements

In some cases, nutritional supplements may be necessary to ensure your live-in care  client is getting the nutrients they need. It’s a good idea to get a dietitian or other healthcare provider’s advice and recommendations.

Engaging Family Members

Involving family members can provide additional support and encouragement for your live-in care client.

Open Communication

Try to keep other family members involved and up to date with the situation and any steps that you’re taking to address it. Open communication helps to make sure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

Family Visits

Encourage family visits during mealtimes. Familiar faces and shared meals can help to make a massive difference.

Emotional Support

Family members can also offer emotional support and reassurance, which can positively impact your live-in care client’s overall well-being and appetite.

Utilising Technology

Technology can be a helpful tool in managing and improving your live-in care client’s eating habits.

Meal Planning Apps

There are lots of meal planning apps out there now that can help you organise and plan nutritious meals tailored to your live-in care client’s preferences and needs.

Online Support Groups

Online support groups for carers can provide valuable advice, tips, and emotional support. Connecting with others who are in similar situations can be incredibly beneficial for both you and your live-in care client.

Telehealth Services

Telehealth services can provide access to healthcare professionals and dietitians who can offer guidance and support without the need for in-person visits, which can be really helpful if your live-in care client isn’t mobile.

Introduction to Live-In Care: What Is It?

Live-in care means having a professional home carer live in the home with a home care client to provide constant support and help. This setup helps to make sure that the client gets personalised home care that meets their specific needs, all in the comfort of their own home. Live-in carers assist their home care client’s with daily tasks like bathing, dressing, meal prep, and managing medications. 

They also offer companion care and emotional support. This care model provides an alternative to nursing homes, and means that home care clients are able to keep their independence and enjoy a higher quality of life.

What a Live-In Carer Can Do for Their Client

Live-in carers provide a comprehensive range of services to support their home care clients and enhance their quality of life. These services include:

  1. Personal Care

  • Helping with bathing, showering, and maintaining hygiene.

  • Supporting with dressing and grooming, ensuring clients feel comfortable and confident.

  • Managing continence care, including assistance with toileting and incontinence products.

  1. Medication Management

  • Administering their home care client’s prescribed medications according to the correct schedule.

  • Monitoring for side effects and ensuring medications are taken as directed.

  • Organising and refilling prescriptions as needed.

  1. Nutrition and Meal Preparation

  • Planning and preparing nutritious meals tailored to their home care client's dietary needs and preferences.

  • Assisting with feeding when necessary.

  • Ensuring proper hydration by monitoring fluid intake.

  1. Mobility Support

  • Assisting with walking and transferring from bed to chair, or vice versa.

  • Encouraging and helping with prescribed physical activities and exercises.

  • Supporting the use of mobility aids such as walkers, canes, and wheelchairs.

  1. Household Management

  • Performing light housekeeping tasks such as cleaning, laundry, and tidying up.

  • Managing household supplies and grocery shopping.

  • Ensuring the home environment is safe and clutter-free.

  1. Companion Care and Emotional Support

  • Providing social interaction and companionship to reduce feelings of loneliness.

  • Offering emotional support and reassurance, promoting mental well-being.

  • Engaging in meaningful activities and hobbies that the home care client enjoys.

  1. Health Monitoring

  • Keeping track of the home care client’s vital signs and health conditions.

  • Monitoring for changes in health and contacting their home care clients GP where needed.

  • Helping their home care to appointments and coordinating healthcare visits.

  1. Transportation

  • Driving their home care client to their appointments, social engagements, and shopping.

  • Making sure their home care travels safely and has help entering and exiting the vehicle.

  1. Specialised Care

  • Supporting home care clients with chronic conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s disease.

  • Helping organise other holistic therapies that may help your home care client.

  1. Emergency Response

  • Being prepared to handle emergencies and provide first aid if needed.

  • Contacting emergency services and the home care client’s family in case of serious events.

  • Ensuring your home care client's safety during unforeseen situations.

By offering these varied forms of support, a live-in carer plays a big role in maintaining their home care client's independence and overall well-being, all while providing peace of mind to their families.

Who We Are at Access Care

At Access Care, we're all about providing top-notch live-in care that helps our clients live full and independent lives. Our team is made up of caring, skilled live-in carers who are dedicated to giving personalised home care that meets each client’s unique needs. 

We know how crucial it is to create a supportive environment, and we take pride in building strong relationships with our home care clients and their families. Our approach covers everything from physical to emotional and social care, making sure we meet all aspects of our home care clients' well-being. 

Our goal is simple: to improve the lives of those we care for, giving them the confidence to stay safe and comfortable in their own homes.

Help is at Hand

Ensuring that your elderly client maintains a healthy diet is crucial for their overall well-being. 

By understanding the underlying causes of their refusal to eat and by using practical strategies, you can make a really big difference. 

Remember, you’re not alone— work with other healthcare providers, involve family members, and utilise available resources to provide the best home care possible.

How To Contact Access Care

If you feel that you or a loved one would benefit from the support of one of our live-in carer’s then please give us a call on 01264 319 399, we would be happy to discuss your needs. Alternatively you can email us on


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