Life-Changing Nutrition for Seniors Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult to Help

Lifestyle modifications are things we learn sometimes must be made to age successfully.

Perhaps we want – or are told – to make a few changes after we get diagnosed with a new medical condition.

Perhaps we need to improve our mobility or balance by losing a few pounds and getting more physically active.

It might be we just don’t want to take the new medication the doctor thinks will help us so we opt instead to alter our eating habits.

No matter our age, most of us could benefit by changing some of our health choices. It is especially important for people as they age to eat right. It could be life changing for older adults when they don’t eat well and fail to include the nutrients necessary to stay strong and healthy.

Nutrition Impacts Seniors

Many senior adults change the way they eat over time. There are many reasons why changes occur some are physical, emotional and even environmental but all have negative health consequences.

  1. Seniors may not eat as much, they may get full faster or feel that since they aren’t as active they don’t require as much to eat. Unfortunately, the consequence of limiting the amount of food your senior chooses to eat is consuming inadequate nutrition. This can have a serious negative health impact on seniors.
  2. Chewing can become difficult as we age, when our teeth become worn down or our dentures don’t fit quite right. A consequence of chewing problems can be avoiding meats, harder foods and things that are stringy. Usually the first foods that are left off the menu are foods containing the best source of protein.
  3. Swallowing can also become hard for some seniors. They may cough, have a runny nose or even choke when they eat certain foods. This leads to poor intakes of fluids, restriction of dry foods like bread and can lead to only wanting liquids like soda or juice.
  4. It seems a natural progression when the kids leave home to cook less or just get by with something quick. As we get older, we may lose interest in cooking for ourselves and are satisfied with heating a can of soup. The overall amount of nutritious foods eaten can drop quickly.
  5. Some seniors may not feel that they have enough money in the budget to spend on healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables or protein foods. A great percentage do not seek assistance from programs such as SNAP that can supplement their food budget if they qualify. Many seniors feel a need to choose between food, medications and other bills when fixed incomes don’t cover all their expenses anymore.
  6. Some seniors may fatigue easily and can no longer cook a full meal, clean up or have the energy to even consume a full meal if one is provided. Some may not have the strength and balance to operate in the kitchen safely anymore. Some may also have a cognitive impairment that makes remembering the sequence of safe meal preparation an overwhelming task.

Not eating enough key nutrients can lead to problems for aging seniors such as dehydration, muscle loss known as sarcopenia, undesired weight loss, confusion, and falls.

Nutritional deficiencies can lead to risks for compromised immunity making seniors more vulnerable to opportunistic infections, GI disturbances, brittle bones when calcium and Vitamin D are inadequate, numbness or weakness when B12 is in short supply, anemia when iron or folate are lacking, and other physical signs when essential nutrients are not consumed.

Eating Right for Seniors

Because many seniors experience an overall decline in physical activity, older adults require fewer calories per day. However, the amount of nutrients they need to stay healthy doesn’t change. Consequently, the nutritional content of the calories that are eaten become important.

Choosing foods wisely can help older adults achieve better nutrition.

  • Choose fruits and vegetables which are vital to your senior’s health. Eating at least five servings a day using a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are recommended. They give your senior vitamins, minerals, fluids and fiber which are all essential for well being. The more colorful the foods you select, the richer in nutrients the foods will be.
  • Fiber rich foods should be eaten throughout the day. Whole grain foods and fresh fruits and vegetables contribute to your senior’s total fiber intake. Fiber keeps your senior regular and can reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Drinking enough fluids each day is often difficult for older adults since they do not feel thirst as they once did, even though they may not be as well hydrated. Sometimes foods can contribute fluid to the diet, such as lettuce, fruits, vegetable juice and soups. Keep a glass of water near your senior so they don’t have to get up in search of a drink and they can sip on it throughout the day.
  • You may need to discuss with your senior’s doctor whether supplementation is needed. Eating foods rich in these nutrients is the best way to stay healthy but in case they can not eat enough for key nutrients, like Vitamin D and calcium, a vitamin or mineral supplements may be needed.
  • Urge your senior to visit the dentist. Let them get a thorough exam, have their dentures or natural teeth checked to be sure there is no mouth pain keeping them from eating right. If needed, reline dentures, use foam inserts or denture creams or even remake dentures so that they can eat their favorite foods again. The dentist can also identify if mouth sores need treatment since you won’t be able to see that and your senior may not be able to tell you where it hurts when they eat.
  • Look into getting meals delivered to the home, at least from time to time, if a meal preparation hurdle needs to be overcome.
  • Get your senior loved one an evaluation by a speech therapist if swallowing is a problem. This professional can help your senior with strategies for the proper meal and fluid consistency that will allow your senior to eat safely.
  • If weight control is an issue, regular physical activity of some sort is essential. Daily activity can make your senior feel better and improve their life. It is very important to get physically active even if weight is not a concern. Maintaining strength and balance through physical activity will help prevent sarcopenia, falls and could even increase their appetite.
  • Make the dining environment a happy place. Recommend or serve foods that don’t have overwhelming odors, avoid serving too much at one time and give a beverage after half of the meal is eaten. Reduce confusion by adding soothing music, pleasant smells, and avoiding pushing your senior to eat when they don’t want to. The table shouldn’t be a battleground but a place of encouragement and support.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation and not using tobacco has been shown to help prevent chronic disease. Caution is needed, as the effectiveness of some medications can be reduced with alcohol. When an elder drinks too much it could take the place of eating healthy foods.
  • Storing and preparing foods safely can prevent food borne illness. Store leftovers quickly, heating foods thoroughly and keeping work areas clean can help. Don’t forget to check the pantry and refrigerator for foods that have passed their expiration dates, as seniors sometimes overlook or can’t read the fine print and may be eating spoiled food, resulting in illness.

There is no time better than now for your senior to make meal changes that could change their life for the better.

This doesn’t just apply to our senior loved ones, though. Family caregivers can often make some changes to stay as strong and healthy as possible to be there for our seniors and others for whom we care when we are needed.