Being a mom of three young children means that often times, I need to be creative at meal time. My 7-year-old, in particular, is going through an extremely picky phase with her food. I can't get her to try anything new for breakfast; everyday it is cereal. Packing a healthy lunch is like pulling teeth. And not because I have an excess of unhealthy options to choose from. I rarely buy chips, cookies and other junk and, in general, I try to stay away from too many processed foods. She's picky when it comes to sandwiches or the "main" entree of her lunch. When I make her choose a fruit or vegetable to pack along with her lunch, she acts as if I am asking her to pack a cockroach!
"I don't want to eat that...I don't like that!"
It's gotten so bad that I've had to enforce a new rule in the house: if you don't eat healthy throughout the day (including fresh fruits and vegetables), you can forget about any sweets or desserts for the rest of the day. That tends to motivate them. But not without fussing. Still, I am always looking for ways to "trick" my kids into eating healthy. Aside from simply forcing them to eat fresh fruits and veggies, I found a cookbook that teaches how to cook fruit and veggie purees into all kinds of foods: breakfast, desserts, snacks, etc. It's been fun experimenting with new recipes and even more amusing to watch them wolf down their afternoon snacks without them knowing all of the healthy fruits and veggies I've hidden inside!
When someone you love has dementia, they become very childlike (do I sound like a broken record yet??) My mom is actually far worse than my kids are when it comes to food. I can usually coax my kids into at least trying things; my mom will look at something, and if she doesn't recognize it (which is the case 90% of the time), she won't even try it. Furthermore, she will not venture away from her "staple" foods. Her main staple food for breakfast is her Slim Fast drink.
Mom complains of tummy troubles nearly everyday. Lately, it has gotten really bad (you can read more about that on my post from last week). She met with a geriatric doctor for the first time last Thursday, who will be taking over all of her healthcare and medications from here on out (rather than meeting with several doctors and getting medicated by each one). When the issue of her stomach ache came up, he suggested that she might be developing a lactose intolerance. I still believe that it has to do with the combination of the Slim Fast (known to give stomach problems) along with the liquid diet and medication. Nevertheless, we are open to exploring every angle to solve this problem. I have recently been reading a lot about dairy and links to certain health issues, so it could be possible that her body is having a hard time processing the dairy. We've talked about taking away her Slim Fast, but she becomes very combative at the mere suggestion of substituting her breakfast. We thought that, perhaps, the easiest place to start would be by substituting her milk with a lactose free variety.
"What? No, milk is not my problem, no. Milk is always real healthy for my body too and I always drink milk and it's never given me problems, no."
"Mom, sometimes when people get older their bodies change and different foods make them feel bad," I explained, trying to break it down simply for her to understand. I knew she would not understand terms such as "lactose intolerance" and "dairy".
"Sometimes milk can make people's stomach hurt. We just want to try a different kind of milk that would help your stomach feel better," I continued.
She would not look at the milk that I was holding in my hand and presenting to her. She became angry and looked away with her eyebrows furrowed and a scowl on her face.
"No, you are making me real angry. I can drink that milk, it's okay and real good for my body. No, you guys keep picking on me. I don't like it."
She turned her body away from me and tried to walk out of the kitchen. She was met by my dad in the doorway; he held his arm across the doorway to prevent her from storming out.
"Dear, will you please just listen to her? She's trying to tell you something to help you," he said, trying to redirect her back to the conversation.
"I'm trying to help you mom," I added. "I'm trying to help your stomach problems go away."
"No I know that milk is real healthy for me. I even used to teach that to my students, that milk is healthy and nutritious for our bodies," she argued back.
"Milk is healthy, but it can also cause stomach problems," I countered.
"We just want to try something new, dear. We're trying to figure out what the cause is and we can't do that unless you try some new things. We won't know if it's the milk unless you stop drinking it for a few days and see how your stomach feels," he tried explaining.
I could almost see the words going into one ear and straight out the other. Our explanations held no meaning to her. She simply could not understand that we were trying to help her; we were trying to take something away that she wanted and in doing so we had become the enemy.
"I'm real angry with you guys picking on me! I know what I'm talking about, I know what's nutritious for my body!" she yelled back. With that said, she pushed through my dad's arm and raced down the hall to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
My dad and I looked at one another with discouragement in our eyes. Although we could have predicted the outcome, we had been hopeful she would listen to reason.
I attended a few support group meetings over the summer and there is one, recurring phrase that the director would say over and over. Those words continue to play in my mind and as I stood in my parent's kitchen, feeling defeat in losing the milk battle, those words returned to me again: Sometimes it is kinder to lie.
An idea came to me. I had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but it was a last resort.
"Dad...we need to switch out the milk. She will never know the difference. She mixes it with her Slim Fast anyway, and she is losing her sense of taste as it is. I don't think she'll ever notice."
Dad contemplated this solution.
With a dementia person, it is next to impossible to reason or give explanations. Trying to get them to do something they don't want to do is extremely frustrating and exhausting for the caregiver. Sometimes, a caregiver needs to be sneaky not only for their sanity, but for the sake of the person they are caring for. Mom may never know the difference if we switch her milk, but if we bring up the idea to her she will become angry and combative. Hence, it is kinder to her to simply switch out the milk without her knowledge. She can continue to be happy and think she is drinking her "nutritious" milk.
My dad has struggled with this concept. In a relationship, and particularly a marriage, honesty is the foundation for success. My parents have always had a very honest relationship. I think it's hard for him to feel as though he is deceiving his wife, even though it has become necessary in many situations. And I think he is also trying to allow her to keep her freedoms for as long as possible. As hard as it is for me to think about deceiving my mom, I know it's that much harder for my dad.
After conversing with my dad about the milk, we thought to try having my brother (who was driving in from Arizona that night) make her Slim Fast for her the next morning, substituting her milk and observing if she noticed the difference. However, after thinking more and more about that option, we concluded that it would not be the best way to go. Mom is very particular about the details of her morning Slim Fast, down to the cup she uses, the amount of milk she pours and how many times she stirs it (100, to be exact). When my sister-in-law and brother got in late that night, they were able to convince my dad to pour out her half-empty gallon of milk and substitute it with the almond milk.
The next morning, I began receiving texts from Natalie (my sister-in-law) at the time my mom was preparing her Slim Fast.
"Milk in her hand...let's see if she falls for it...she's stirring 100 times...about to drink it..."
And then finally, the text,
"Success!!! She's drinking it!"
For the remainder of the weekend, mom drank her Slim Fast, every morning, never knowing that we had switched her milk. It could be coincidence, or it could be the almond milk, but mom's stomach problems have not been as "severe" over the past few days. Indeed, sometimes it is "kinder to lie".
Our next step: to replace her chocolate Slim Fast with chocolate protein powder!