Chocolate in Caregiving

Chocolate’s flavonoids have shown to be good for the heart, skin and brain and have even been known to help boost memory. But most importantly, chocolate can be good for the soul. Caregiver, Kay Engle discusses how chocolate was one of the only pleasures in her dementia-suffering mother’s life.

By: Kay E. Engle

Some things in life are universal: food, sleep, family and, oh yes, chocolate.  My mother lived with me in her last years and I was the source of her food, comfort, and everything else.  Little did I know that chocolate would be a very important part of her world.  She had very specific tastes where food was concerned, but chocolate was the exception.  She loved chocolate.

The Importance of a Not-So-Guilty Pleasure

Chocolate in CaregivingMother had dementia.  As time went on, many of her behaviors confused me.  Sometimes she wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t sleep; she wouldn’t do anything I wanted her to do. The one thing she would do is accept chocolate.

Chocolate has a unique quality – it’s irresistible to most of us.  So when Mother refused her afternoon snack – a piece of toast spread with her favorite jam – I retreated to the kitchen to re-group.  (Snacks were important because Mother had been losing weight and my goal was to help her gain some back.)

The answer was a small square of dark chocolate wrapped in foil.  Not only did she enjoy this treat, but the foil wrapping had various short inspirational quotes.  She collected these, smoothed out and stacked neatly on the table next to her bed.  I watched from her doorway as she read and re-read these little notes.

Of course, chocolate does not replace a nutritious diet.   My mother was in her 90’s and ate only small portions at a time, but a well-rounded menu was important to keep her healthy.  So while she usually accepted rotisserie chicken with mashed potatoes and peas, she would never turn down a sweet dessert – or chocolate.

A Little Chocolate and A Friendly Smile Go a Long Way

Chocolate or any other sweet would usually turn tense situations into more pleasant ones.  I remember stubbornly telling my mother she would not get dessert unless she ate her dinner.  She held her ground and refused to budge saying she had already eaten enough sweets that day.  When I stomped into the kitchen and guilt began to seep into my over-worked conscience, I realized that a dessert of fresh raspberries, half and half and honey was far better than no food at all.  So I relented and took the dessert in to her room where she calmly said, “Thank you…for the dessert that I should have had in the first place.”  Need I say more?!

It took time for me to realize that I did not have to win every disagreement with my mother.  Her way may not have always been the best, but unless she was in danger of hurting herself, a little chocolate, a friendly smile and a pat on her shoulder went a lot further than a foot-stomping daughter who ended up eating her words.  I’d rather have chocolate.

Do you have a secret bribery tool that is effective in your caregiving role? How do you balance healthy foods with your elderly loved ones’ desired foods, such as sweets? We welcome your comments below.

Caregiver, Kay Engle
Caregiver, Kay Engle.

Ms. Engle is a retiree whose offer to care for her aging mother began a difficult but unforgettable journey of caregiving, love and understanding. She wrote “A Day in the Life of a Caregiver,” one of our most popular posts to date, which brings to life both the rewarding and challenging aspects of caregiving and the relationship between mother and daughter. In “Caregiving and the Real Cost of Care,” Engle’s honest account of caregiving—and how you’re never quite emotionally prepared—resonates  with caregivers everywhere. And Kay continued to eloquently speak to caregivers in “The Simple Act of Paying Attention,” as she brought up the importance of learning to communicate and pay attention to every day details involved with being a compassionate caregiver.


  1. Doris Butler

    I am very new to this whole “caregiver” thing, having moved my father into my home, only two months ago. Getting my father to eat nutritious food and not just eat junk all the time has been an ongoing battle. We actually had an argument, this evening, where instead of eating his dinner, he ate about 1/4 of it, pushed it aside and grabbed the rice pudding I had put out on the table (no, that wasn’t the best idea – I was just trying to make a nice setting for dinner – lesson learned). I actually grabbed it back and the argument over his not wanting to eat anything but junk ensued. Thank you for this article. I’m learning, little by little and it is so difficult at times. This article really hit home for me (and was, coincidentally, the first one I’ve ever read on here).

    • Kay Engle

      Thank you, Doris. Your experience is exactly the same as mine. I learned so much from the mistakes I made with my mother. Although I regret my reactions, I know my mother appreciated my efforts and I am so grateful for the time I had with her. The very best to you and your father.


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