As we age, many older adults tend to change the way they eat. This change may be intentional for many and while for others it is done unknowingly.
Many will eat less thinking their bodies don’t need as much food because they aren’t as physically active as they once were.
This way of thinking may be true for overall number of calories but not for nutritional content.
Some older adults experience more trouble with chewing and swallowing foods when they eat, taste foods differently, don’t feel like preparing meals for one, feel lonesome during meal times, fear ‘healthier’ foods are too expensive, or overly restrict what they eat because they are trying to control a chronic disease.
One or all of these reasons may be influencing what your senior loved one is eating (or not eating) and impacting not only their health but, also unknowingly, their quality of life.
Caregivers can help by identifying potential gaps in their senior loved ones’ nutrition and then filling those gaps for their health.
Aging and Impaired Nutrition
A large percentage of older adults (those over 65) have multiple chronic diseases that can affect their nutritional status. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), 80% of seniors have at least one chronic disease and 77% have two or more.
A poor diet while aging can lead to frailty which results in becoming nutritionally compromised, making it harder for older adults to fight sickness or stress. Reduced muscle mass leading to impaired functional status and even malnutrition (undernutrition) can also occur.
A loss of muscle mass and strength can lead to falls. A senior falls every 11 seconds. Unfortunately, falls are the leading cause of fractures, head trauma, hospitalization and injury deaths for older adults, per the NCOA.
Cognitive impairment can worsen nutritional health because unintentional weight loss is common in those with dementia. Lower food intake, increased physical movement (pacing, etc.), reduced resting energy expenditure (metabolism), or a combination contribute to weight loss and impaired nutrition.
Getting enough healthy food, especially foods that include protein and essential nutrients, such as calcium and B vitamins, can make independence harder to maintain as our senior loved ones age.
Caregivers Can Help
Older adults may need help staying healthy, especially when their appetites begin to wane.
Family caregivers can help older adults stay on track, eat nutrient dense foods, shop for healthy foods on a budget, and facilitate putting meals on the table when they can’t always do it for themselves.
Here are ways family caregivers can help seniors eating well everyday from the National Institute of Aging and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (association of Registered Dietitians). Get them to…
- Eat a variety of foods from all food groups, don’t skip important foods
- Choose fruits and vegetables at each meal. Use fresh, frozen, or canned to stay in budget and make preparation as easy as possible.
- Eat a rainbow of foods to get the maximum amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.
- Include whole grains, protein, and dairy foods at each meal.
- Drink plenty of fluids, including water. As we age, our sense of thirst diminishes so we need to drink often. Avoid sugar sweetened beverages.
- Invite friends and families to share a meal to reduce loneliness and boredom. Most seniors will eat more when they have someone join them.
- Flavor food with herbs and spices instead of salt. The tastier a food is, the more they may eat.
- If dental problems are keeping your senior from eating a variety of foods, it is time for a dental checkup.
- If they aren’t eating enough, talk with the doctor about starting a nutritional/vitamin/mineral supplement.
Caregivers can get creative when helping seniors eat a more nutritious diet.
Here are more ways you can help your senior avoid malnutrition that could keep them from aging in place successfully.