Being able to eat foods you enjoy is key to a good quality of life. However, for those with serious or chronic illnesses, diet modifications often need to be made to better manage health conditions and symptoms. The Iyashi Care team can assist patients and families with dietary changes, whether due to medication or nutritional needs. Dr. Yuichi Edwin Yanami, one of Iyashi Care’s lead physicians, shared how the team can support patients and families in these situations.

Dr. Yanami explained that there are several common challenges regarding patients’ food intake:

  • Medication: Some medications may negatively interact with specific foods or need to be taken before or after eating. Others may be difficult to swallow or have an unpleasant taste, and still others may cause side effects, such as poor appetite or nausea.
  • Diet modification: Certain health conditions and symptoms can be managed through diet modifications, such as lowering salt and sugar intake or eating more leafy green vegetables. However, making those adjustments and sticking with it can be difficult.

Typically, Dr. Yanami and one of the team nurses will work with the patients and families on dietary modifications. They will then periodically check in on how the modifications are going and readjust as needed. If the situation requires specific dietary advice, the team may suggest the patient see a registered dietician.

Note: Everyone’s situation is different – please talk to your health care provider before making any dietary or medication changes. This article is not intended for individuals to self-assess care for themselves or their loved ones.

Below are some common scenarios where the Iyashi Care team can assist:

Safely Swallowing Liquids

According to Dr. Yanami, swallowing safety for liquids is critical, especially for someone who has advanced dementia or experienced a stroke. To address choking risk, the team may recommend a thickening liquid, which can be used for water, juice, tea, etc. The team can also assist with general swallowing challenges as well, including all types of food and medication.

Medication Intake

If a patient is struggling to take certain medications, the Iyashi Care team may recommend crushing and mixing with different foods. “When you crush certain pills, they may taste bitter, acidic, or metallic. Mixing them with apple sauce, ice cream, or oatmeal, for example, can help with intake,” shared Dr. Yanami.

He did caution though that this is not applicable to all medications, as some are designed to be swallowed whole so the medication is released in the body over time. If pills are a challenge for the patient, they may recommend switching to a liquid version of the medication, if available.

No Appetite or Too Much Appetite

A majority of Iyashi Care families struggle with patients who do not have an appetite. For such situations, when the calorie intake is a priority compared to controlling their blood sugar or blood pressure, the team may recommend allowing the patient to eat what they prefer. For example, if the patient has mild diabetes, it might be more important for the patient to get food into their system than following a strict diet to keep their blood sugar level down.

Dr. Yanami also commented on how difficult it is to modify a Japanese diet to have less sodium. However, if the patient prefers Japanese food, the team will discuss with the family and monitor the sodium levels.

In some cases, a patient may forget that they have already eaten and try to eat again. For such situations, Dr. Yanami recommends healthy snacks.

Staying Hydrated

At times, staying hydrated is another challenge patients may face. In such situations, the team may suggest trying coconut water.

Dr. Yanami shared, “Many times a family member may come to me and say ‘Oh my dad doesn’t listen to me when I tell him he can’t eat so much dessert.’” This is a common challenge that many families face — convincing the patient to follow the dietary modifications, especially if it limits food they enjoy.

When a patient’s diet may need to be modified, the team works with the patient and their family to ensure that these changes align with the patient’s goals of care. Dr. Yanami explained, “Ultimately, we want to ensure that the patient has the best quality of life possible. That involves having a good balance — the patient eating their favorite foods, in moderation if it is unhealthy, while maintaining a nutritious diet; addressing any side effects of or difficulty taking medications; and discussing feasible and reasonable suggestions with the family.”