Thursday, October 17, 2013

When the Onion Ring Betrays You.

Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better. -- Robert Redford

In a recent class assignment, we conducted self-experiments to understand age-related changes to the senses and to mobility. One particular exercise that stood out for me was the eating simulation where I tried to eat unsalted crackers without using my teeth.  I put the cracker in my mouth and tried to figure out how to break it down in order to swallow.  It took awhile for the cracker to become soft enough to swallow without choking, and by the third cracker, I became impatient and tried to “chew” using the roof of my mouth and my tongue.  This was not a fun experience, and it made me realize how frustrating it must be when age-related changes affect activities that were once pleasurable.  In older adults, eating could also pose potential hazards such as choking.  A second exercise was to simulate the changes to our senses of smell and taste. While being blindfolded and having my nose pinched very tightly, I ate different types of foods.  Everything tasted similar and dull, and I couldn't differentiate between an apple and a potato!

These exercises made me empathize more with older persons who profess to not enjoying eating.  When senses are duller and eating is cumbersome due to dentures, tooth loss, and/or reductions of saliva (and a host of other reasons), I would probably feel the same way.  Having a nice meal, however, is important to the soul.  When unable to fully savor food, life can become lackluster.  More importantly, you could miss out on important nutrients.

Mother holding a sleepy infant.
While on the topic of food, eating and cooking are among my mother’s greatest sources of joy.  Now aged 85, she is beginning to experience physical difficulties when she eats foods that her body can no longer process.

For example, mother had a gout flare-up last Friday.  She is normally active, but having gout makes walking a miserable, nearly-impossible ordeal.  Mother is not a big meat eater, but she loves fried foods! The neighborhood burger restaurant makes the best onion rings (crispy fried batter, and the perfect amount of salt!), and it is definitely a favorite.  Unfortunately, eating too many onion rings made her body rebel.  Her physician (often) tells her to give up certain foods, but she giggles and gives him a look of innocence.  I have been monitoring what she eats more than before, but I don't enjoy being the food police.  To hasten the healing, I made sure that mother ate a clean, simple diet of mainly grains and light vegetables.  

By Sunday evening, mother broke down and cried hysterically.  She was frustrated and accused me of not letting her eat anything. Actually, she was eating food…just not the kind she often craves.  Nonetheless, I felt like a mean daughter.  On the one hand, I understand her frustration – I would be upset, too.  On the other hand, eating certain foods can lead to painful consequences. Is there a winning resolution?

I don’t want to pretend to be the “expert” because I have yet to experience significant age-related changes.  Hopefully mother will forgive her daughter, the tyrant.  Now, I am curious about you.  Have you had any noticeable changes to your senses or physical functioning with age?  Has it led to a greater understanding of what elders before you may have gone through?  As always, I appreciate your comments. Thanks so much for reading my blog!

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