Cooking Tips For Caregivers
Well-thought-out plans reap its own rewards. Seniors’ nutritional needs are different from children’s and regular adults’ hence take more time to learn.
Familiarize what ingredients to get, study any history of allergies, learn to cook in bulk, and plan for 7 days at a time. This allows you to do shopping on the weekends, saving resources and time. Most importantly, talk to your senior loved one first to know their preferences and consult with a nutritionist or medical expert to optimize the meal plan.
For a more comprehensive guide, follow our tips below:
Know the Nutrients First
The top most needed nutrients, but not limited to, for seniors are3:
Calcium & Vitamin D – to help with bone mass and prevent life threatening frailty from easily breakable bones.
Vitamin B12 – it keeps red blood cell count high for nerve function. If they have healthy nerves, mobility, chewing food, and holding eating utensils are not much of a chore.
Potassium – Vital for their body’s cell functions, it also supports the risk of high blood pressure by helping blood vessel walls loosen. This thus supports circulation and minimizes damage in the extremities.
Fiber – it will keep their digestion healthy and move things along in their body. It also keeps cholesterol level in check by slowing down its absorption.
Water – water is key in preventing dehydration in seniors and will help soften stool to prevent constipation.
If you need a little additional help in topping off the daily essential nutrition requirement, nutritional supplements can be added. Make sure they have been specifically formulated for seniors. For example, Ensure® Complete Balanced Nutrition for Adults comes in powder and liquid versions for easy customization for preferences. 4
- Make meals quick to prepare. (E.g. steam and season or chop and stir fry.)
- Not all meals have to be solid so look into soups, puree, and raw vegetables and fruit smoothies.
- Go natural and fresh as possible as they are more wholesome and do not contain any hidden additives. If you have to use canned or preserved items, read and compare labels.
- Choose lean red meats, skinless chicken, whole grains, legumes, and avoid deep frying anything.
- Grind your own spices as store bought ones contain sodium and possible preservatives.
- Prepare in bulk and freeze ready to heat portions. This also includes ingredients for future meals.
- Plan for snacks and keep prepared fruits, vegetable sticks, and unsalted mixed nuts for snacks. This prevents last minute craving snacks from becoming junk and interrupting regular meals.
- Work a comfort food or two into your meal plan as it can boost their morale.
- Cook together! Planning or cooking together not only allows you to better understand their needs, it also provides them with something to keep them mentally active.
Top Tips for Caregiving
Caring for our senior loved ones comes with challenges. Compared to taking care of children, there are no clear indications of when it will get more difficult or when full recovery can be expected. Caregiving varies from patient to patient. Whether you are providing care to your own loved one or someone else’s, remember to pace yourself and get to know the tips that can help you become a better caregiver.
- Get to know how much care is needed!
Will your seniors need assisted living? Will they need to be admitted to a nursing home? Will they need home care? In some cultures, especially in Myanmar culture, caregiving conversations before a senior need it is taboo. It is expected that you take care of the elderly because they may have at one point in time taken care of you. Determining how much care a senior needs versus your abilities to give will minimize crises.1, 2
- You have to consider financial implications.
This type of conversation is the type that no one really wants to have because it can be triggering for both the caregiver and senior. But it is one you must also have because caregiving can get expensive. If you do not have time, will you be able to afford to sign them up for a nursing home? Who will take care of the medical bills? If in-homecare, will the responsibilities be shared among the people living there? They are all things you must plan for so that they do not create unnecessary debates in the future with parties involved.1, 2
- Get help where it is needed
You may think at first that the responsibility is all yours and it is not appropriate to thrust others with your duties. It is actually quite okay to ask for help when you feel overwhelmed. Be realistic about how much care you can give and are willing to give. Be proactive and find support in geriatric experts or other caregivers within family and friends. Check your local senior communities, nursing homes, support groups, and even social media outlets for your concerns and backup for some hard decisions.1, 2
- Your own wellbeing matters too
Recognizing stress and how to deal with it will help you help yourself and become a better caretaker. Over a long period of time, stress is detrimental to your own wellbeing. Socialize away from caretaking from time to time, give focus to other parts of your life, and maintain a healthy diet along with physical exercise.1, 2
Whatever type of care you are giving, always stay up to date on the latest caregiving techniques and ways to improve quality of life with nutrition. Whether or not you are up to par in the nutrition department when providing care, you can use nutritional supplements where need be. Explore the many products from EnsureⓇ, which has over 40 years of research and scientifically formulated products to improve a senior’s health for a fulfilling and fruitful life.3
Why senior nutrition should be a caregiver’s priority
As we age, our body’s natural ability to process nutrients change. Whether or not food choices are made voluntarily, more often than not most seniors are undernourished. Good nutrition is about balance and providing all that a body needs to function. With already added medical conditions that come with aging, taking care of a loved one’s nutritional needs should be a caregiver’s priority.1, 4
Lacking proper nutrition has added side effects to other medical conditions and can reduce the quality of life a loved one has. Adequate nutrition prevents early osteoporosis, heart diseases, high cholesterol, abnormal blood pressure, and if a senior already has those conditions, it will help them better manage. Make Sure a senior is getting enough of these nutrients because:1, 3
Fiber – Fiber is what helps move things through the body. Changing lifestyles or a history of irregular diet lacking in fiber can develop gastrointestinal and constipation disorders.
Protein – Protein is not just for bulking up. Elderly people who do not get enough protein have slow injury healing, weakened muscles, and become immunocompromised. Seniors need twice the amount of protein compared to young adults because of the body’s weakened ability to process.
Calcium – bone loss speeds up due to hormonal changes and the body’s slowed speed in replacing bone tissue. Our bodies are in a constant state of breaking down and renewing, and if a senior lacks calcium, their body will extract it from bones and teeth, thus causing brittle bones and chewing problems.
Vitamin A & B – Muscle and nerve weakness is common in seniors and both Vitamin A & B are essential for cognitive function. Weak nerves, impared vision and early dementia like symptoms not only affect a senior’s eating habits, it affects their general quality of life.
Saturated or Trans Fats – these are those you have to make sure a senior doesn’t have too much of. To make up for a declined sense of taste, high saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars are consumed. These lead to hypertension and fatty plaque in the veins, as well as obesity. Just because a senior weighs higher than average for their age, it does not mean they are eating properly to avoid other complications.
Ways to improve
- Physical activity keeps the blood flowing, nerves active, muscles alert, and memory strong. It also promotes hunger, thus giving the room to improve nutrition.
- Increased Water intake or other high water content foods. Providing an increased quantity of either of those will prevent dehydration as seniors are also known to lose their sense of thirst as they progress in age.
- Low calorie nutrient dense foods, such as whole grains, fresh vegetables or fruits, lean red, free range chicken, and organic eggs, not only improves heart function, a senior will feel more fulfilled and energized. Nutritional supplements (eg. EnsureⓇ Oral Nutrition Supplement) can be filled in as meal replacements or in between to top off daily needs.
- Variety in food is key because not only will it give an elderly person options, it also can ensure they are getting the nutrients they need.
- Changing formats will help a senior chew, swallow, and overcome any eating problem due to other physical disabilities.
- Increasing social interaction stimulates the mind and prevents isolation. Also food is better enjoyed with good company. By potentially seeing others happy and enjoying food, it may encourage your loved one to do the same.
What caregivers should know: Causes of malnutrition in elderly adults
Malnutrition in its basic definition means the lack of nutrition. Even if the person is eating food on a regular basis, they may be lacking the essential nutrients to function properly. Being undernourished is harmful to anyone at any age, especially if it is prolonged and undiagnosed. It is especially hard for the elderly because of other factors that come with ageing in general. What causes malnutrition? Here we explore the physical, social, and mental causes with tips on how to best intervene.1
You may have noticed that your elderly loved ones want saltier and sweeter food to compensate for their loss of taste. That is one of the signs of losing taste and it greatly affects healthy appetite because they can no longer enjoy normal food. As we also lose muscle, called Sarcopenia, we have less body mass, leading to a slowed down metabolism, which makes us less hungry. Any illness or pre-existing conditions leads to malnutrition due to inflammation . When taking care of a loved one, monitor their oral health because when it is in poor condition, chewing and swallowing becomes difficult, thus limiting what foods they can eat.2, 3
Social and Mental Causes
With the rising cost of living, we see people work well past their retirement age so that they can afford food and medication. For that, malnutrition can be caused by socioeconomic reasons. With societal pressure to always look your best, a senior with a declining physical and cognitive ability will feel isolated. With the added fact that a senior’s other loved ones may no longer be with them, depression onsets, thus affecting their ability to eat. Being social is human nature and like the saying that food tastes better with good company, a senior who lives alone may make poorer food choices or not eat all together.2, 3
Suggest ways to intervene
If you notice a loved one has unexplained weight loss, is feeling fatigued often, eating significantly less, and inflammation, give them the support they need to reduce further malnutrition complications. Simple ways to intervene are2, 3:
- Ask what they would like to eat and cater anyway you can
- Make sure they get regular physical check ups including check ups on oral
- Encourage light exercise to strength training to stimulate appetite
- Make sure they get mental health check ups
- Change their living environment (eg. sign up to social clubs, find hobbies, connection to other family, or get them interested in current modern activities)
- Increase portion size at times they are known to eat most
- Add healthy flavour enhancing ingredients like herbs and spices
- Change food formats
- Include fruits and vegetables high in fiber to keep fuller longer
- Provide a variety of appropriate oral nutrition supplements (eg. EnsureⓇ Nutrition Supplement, scientifically formulated with over 40 years of expertise, comes complete with high quality protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins in every serving)4
Nothing is better than natural nutrient dense food with healthy regular physical exercise combination. Nutritional supplements can be seen as an option, but it should never replace food. As nutritional supplements come in many formats and as many ingredients, finding the right one may be difficult. To find which one is appropriate for your loved one, always consult with a medical professional to minimize injuries in other areas and maximize malnutrition treatment.