Seven Easy Steps to Help an Older Adult Avoid Poor Nutrition
Nutrition is important at every stage of life. Older adults can ward off diabetes, heart conditions, and hypertension with a proper diet. But ensuring older adults get the nutrition they need can be challenging.
Why Older Adults May Not Eat Healthy
As we age our taste buds die
and, after the age of 40, new ones stop regenerating. Our sense of smell also dulls as we get older. Aroma has a lot to do with our overall experience of certain foods, contributing to tastes we like or dislike.
Older adults who no longer derive as much enjoyment from eating may skip meals. While calorie requirements drop
in older adults, the need for vitamins and nutrients—especially vitamin D and B vitamins—may increase.
Socioeconomic factors may leave older adults on a fixed income struggling to afford healthy foods like fresh vegetables and lean protein.
When combined, these factors may all contribute to poor nutrition in a senior loved one.
How to Help an Older Adult Get Proper Nutrition
If you’re caring for an aging adult you can help make sure they get the nutrition they need. A proper diet may ward off the symptoms of aging allowing a senior to stay healthy and independent longer.
Healthy Eating for Life
- Know the guidelines for good nutrition: A well-balanced diet begins with understanding the Food and Drug Administration guidelines for healthy eating. Focus on serving and eating whole grains, about 2.5 cups of vegetables and 1.5 cups of fruits per day, and lean protein, such as chicken, fish, and eggs.
Once you understand these basic guidelines, it’s easier to prepare healthy meals that will ensure your aging loved one gets proper nutrition.
- Share healthy meals together: Whenever possible, sit down together for a meal. Even though older adults may not derive as much enjoyment from the flavors of their favorite foods, they can still enjoy the dining experience of gathering with loved ones, sharing stories, and eating together. Make family mealtimes a priority.
- Create nutritious, convenient foods for older adults: Make sure your aging loved one has healthy, ready-to-eat foods available for times when you’re not around or when they don’t feel like cooking.
Cut enough fruits and vegetables to last them for a few days when you visit, and place them in appealing, easy-to-open containers in the refrigerator. Peel hard-boiled eggs for a quick, protein-packed snack.
- Make healthy eating a daily habit: Set reminders for your loved one to eat meals and snacks on a pre-set schedule.
If your older loved one isn’t consuming enough calories, consider smoothies and shakes, which can be consumed easily even if your loved one is alone.
- Encourage your aging loved one to drink plenty of water: Avoiding sugar- and caffeine-laden soft drinks can help contribute to proper nutrition. Encourage your loved one to keep a refillable water bottle nearby to drink throughout the day.
Flavor water with fresh sprigs of mint, cucumber or berries for a splash of calorie-free, sugar-free flavor.
- Be aware of medications that may block the absorption of certain nutrients: Common medicines such as over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (NSAIDs) may block the absorption of iron. Over-the-counter antacids can cause a vitamin B12 deficiency. Some blood pressure medications can deplete important minerals, including magnesium, sodium, and potassium.
Talk to your loved one’s doctor about the side effects of medications and ask about supplements to ensure they receive adequate nutrition.
- Take advantage of senior nutrition programs: The Administration on Aging and the Administration on Community Living both have programs designed to deliver healthy meals to seniors on a fixed income or those who are at risk of poor nutrition.
Look into programs in your community. These can help alleviate some of your burden as a caregiver while ensuring your loved one is getting nutritious meals daily.
By modeling healthy eating, sharing meals together, and making it easy for your loved one to gain access to nutritious food, you can help ensure your loved one continues to enjoy a better quality of life.
Five Star Senior Living’s Recipes and Tips
video series created by celebrity chef, Brad Miller, offers more insight in to planning healthy but quick meals for older adults.