People with advanced cancers often face changes in their appetite. A patient may stop eating altogether or there may be a gradual reduction in their diet. Ongoing loss in appetite can lead to several complications including weight loss and fatigue to even loss of essential nutrients which can be life-threatening. People with advanced cancer may develop a muscle-wasting syndrome known as cachexia. This means the body is not able to use proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the manner it is supposed to. The loss of skeletal muscle mass causes general weakness and impairment.
Managing loss of appetite is an important part of cancer care and recovery. Studies have shown that starting palliative care early improves outcomes significantly. At Onco-Life Centre, which is a leading multispecialty hospital in Chiplun, our team of health care professionals take nutrition therapy as an important pillar of cancer management very seriously. Patients and their caregivers are guided on all aspects of a balanced diet and to look for early signs of appetite loss.
For most caregivers, being there for their loved ones at a crucial time in their life is extremely important, something they deliver religiously. Here, we offer you some tips from our team of health care professionals at Onco-life Centre in caring for your loved ones. Being a multispecialty hospital in Chiplun, these present a diversified view, one collated by multidisciplinary doctors and tested through years of experience:
Offer small meals – Instead of the usual 3 big meals, try offering cancer patients 6-8 small meals and snacks in a day.
Pack in essential elements – A high protein diet with a healthy balance of carbohydrates and calories is critical. Mix up starchy foods such as roti, rice, bread and pasta with fish, chicken, eggs, paneer, tofu, nuts, beans, and yoghurt.
Determine the best time to offer food – It is generally good to offer high-protein items first thing in the day when the appetite is the strongest. However, this may vary from person to person. Identify what time in the day your patient feels hungry and offer food then.
For instance, it is generally advised to offer the largest meal when the person is the hungriest. It may be at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Look for substitutes – In case your patient does not like solid foods or has trouble digesting it, offer juices, soup, milk shakes and smoothies instead.
Keep them hydrated – Fruit juices, coconut water, lemonades go a long way in maintaining hydration but will need to be monitored carefully. For patients suffering nausea, offering small sips of beverages at regular intervals may work better.
Fortify your meals – Add sauces, gravies, butter, nuts, and cream to add more calories and proteins to their meals. Substitute regular milk with protein-fortified options.
Create a happy atmosphere – Invite friends and family to eat along, create a pleasant ambience and take care to present and serve the food well. It’s the smallest of things that can make all the difference.
Change the taste – If the patient is experiencing problems such as a bad or a metallic after- taste, try offering them mints or sugar free candy after meals. Replacing your silverware with ceramic or plastic serving bowls and spoons also helps.
Show empathy – Recognise that the patient may be beyond a point where they can overcome appetite loss on their own. There are underlying physiological reasons for this to happen and asking them to push themselves harder will only aggravate the problem. Sometimes the patient may ask you to prepare food but not eat it ultimately. Show patience and empathy and try not to be frustrated.
Look for signs of distress – It’s time to consult medical experts if the patient doesn’t eat at all for one day or more, experiences rapid weight loss or pain while eating, doesn’t urinate for an entire day or doesn’t move bowels, is unable to drink or keep liquids down.
At Onco-life Centre, which is a multispecialty hospital in Chiplun, the goal of our healthcare professionals is to give patients the best possible advice related to nutrition and wellness. Trained dieticians are readily available to provide counselling to patients and their families on ways to improve nutrition on the one hand and manage food related challenges on the other. Nutritional goals are customised to suit a patient’s individual needs. In addition, a physician may prescribe medicines to improve appetite or nutritional supplements and digestive enzymes for symptom management.
Watching your loved one battle anorexia or lose weight can be emotionally taxing. Do not blame yourself if you are unable to meet your goals. Ask family or friends to share the caregiving duties and connect with other caregivers to find support. At Onco-life Centre which is a multispecialty hospital in Chiplun our goal is to partner you with information, know-how and offer you all the necessary tools in helping your loved ones.