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Chronic illness: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


Why is it used?

There is no single diet for anyone with chronic illness; the dietary care will depend on what the underlying problem is.

Who would require the diet?

It is usually the elderly that tend to suffer from chronic illness, and this can manifest itself in a variety of ways. For example ill-fitting dentures or bad teeth can cause weight loss, or difficulty in holding cutlery such as in the latter stages of Parkinson's disease. Being overweight can be a big problem for anyone with osteoarthritis. It is therefore necessary and important to identify the problem and then aim to provide the right dietary solution.

In children extra care with the diet is needed to ensure adequate growth.

What is the diet and how does it work?

With any illness, there is an increased nutritional need, and this means an increased intake of food providing not just calories, but also protein and other nutrients. At the same time it is important to consider the individual needs of the person needing help with their diet, such as what are their likes and dislikes.

  • Poor appetite - Small portions with more frequent meal breaks, provide encouragement, make the eating experience pleasurable, eg, music, flowers, a change of scenery, a short walk if possible.
  • Weight loss - High calorie foods, have snacks between meals, try special food supplements such as Build Up or Complan, or those which can be specially prescribed by the doctor to have in addition to the food that is eaten.
  • Taste changes - Try herbs, spices and other flavourings. Conversely, some people may prefer unflavoured foods. Try mouthwashes to refresh the mouth. Ice cubes and fruit drink flavoured ice cubes may also help. Avoid foods that cause particular problems.
  • Nausea & vomiting - Ginger containing foods may help such as biscuits and drinks, dry food, cold foods. Also try small frequent meals and eating and cooking in a well-ventilated room, as this reduces the smell of food. Try 'ready meals'. Fizzy drinks may also help.
  • Diarrhoea - Try a low fibre diet (see Low Fibre Diets). Make sure that plenty of fluids are drunk to prevent dehydration.
  • Tiredness - Try small frequent meals, and/or Build Up or Complan, or supplements which can be specially prescribed by the doctor to have in addition to the food that is eaten. People living on their own may need help.
  • Chewing/swallowing problems - Pureed or liquidised food helps, special thickeners are available to help with swallowing, a speech therapist can assess the swallowing and a dietitian will help with choosing the correct foods and advice as to how to use the special thickeners.
  • Slow eating - Give encouragement and allow plenty of time to eat.
  • Confusion - Can lead to inappropriate food choices, forgetting meal resulting in weight loss, or not realising that a meal has already been eaten causing weight gain. Support and reminders are important.
  • Poor posture and lack of co-ordination - Help with feeding, provide food in bowls, easy to eat food, or foods that can be eaten with hands may be appropriate.
  • Chronic pain - Pain relief helps the sufferer, ensure meals are small, frequent and tempting, to distract from the pain make the surroundings pleasant.
  • Side effects of medication - If possible try to keep the medication and meals at different times or accommodate the side effects such as in diarrhoea or constipation (see low fibre diet for diarrhoea, or see high fibre diet for constipation).

Other important issues:

  • Repeti