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.
How to detect and prevent malnutrition in senior loved ones
Though we may require fewer calories as we age, we need more protein and other essential vitamins and minerals. A well balanced diet rich in proteins, authentic food, and vegetables is not only physically beneficial, but also helps with an elderly’s mental health. And yet, malnutrition is one of the leading causes of senior frailty. Know what to look out for, study how you can help, and apply preventive measures.
What to look out for
Malnutrition can lead to a weakened immune system, poor injury recovery, muscle weakness, and frailty. Detecting malnutrition is not easy as it progressive and can happen over many years. The first and foremost indication that a loved one has malnutrition is extreme weight loss, but other more subtle signs can stack up:
- Pale, grayish, thin, and cold skin
- Little to no stamina
- Uncharacteristic irritability
- lack of appetite or uninterested in proper meals
- Trouble chewing and swallowing
- Constantly in pain
- Often ill and slow in recovery
- Weak muscles resulting frequent falls
If you observe any or a combination of these symptoms in your loved one, taking action early will promote an all over higher quality of life.1
What could contribute to malnutrition
Just looking at the symptoms and treating them may fix the immediate problem, but taking care of the factors that contribute to those symptoms is a must too. Malnutrition is not caused by one single thing, but a combination and here are common factors that contribute to it:2
- Long Term illnesses
- Physical disabilities
- Substance abuse
- Fluctuating changes in taste buds
- Restricted diet to other illnesses
- Poor dental health
- Diagnosed or undiagnosed depression
Tips for preventing malnutrition
The obvious way to counter malnutrition is food, but you as a caregiver should continue to do these things:3
Get professional advice: You may be the one who knows your loved one best, but getting a professional medical diagnostic will help you provide better care. It is also important that before making major decisions, a professional’s advice will help reduce injuries and increase effectiveness of the solutions.
Medication: Learn each of their side effects. Certain medications can affect taste and appetite so monitor what appetite changes correlate with which medications.
Monitor weight: keep a record of their weight overtime. It will differ from one elderly to another and the easiest way to see is by seeing how their favorite clothes fit.
Regular Exercise: from walking to strength training to physical therapy, can give a senior stamina and mobility, thus increasing appetite.
Nutrient Rich Foods: Throwing in eating out or enjoying meals together with other people, make sure they all include fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and less processed grains. Change up the recipes or method of cooking to create variety and plan for adding more nutritious healthy snacks in between meals. If you feel like you need more help here, nutritional supplements can be seen as an option. Supplements like Ensure have been especially formulated with daily required vitamins and minerals with years of research to fill in nutrition gaps for adults.4
How to help manage caregiver stress
In a majority of households, caregiving is provided by those who are not healthcare professionals. Even if it is the right thing to take care of those who have taken care of you at one point, you tend to put your own well-being on the back burner. Recognizing stress and how to deal with it will help you help yourself and become a better caretaker.1, 2
Recognize and Acknowledge the Signs of Stress
Whether you are taking care of a spouse, parent, grandparent, or any other loved one, you will have stress in one form or another. The key is to acknowledge them and begin the process of getting well:
- Constant worrying
- Prolonged sleep irregularity
- Easily triggered irritability
- Loss of interest in other areas of your life
- Head pain, body pain, digestive problems
- Binging caffeine, libations, or other substances more than usual
You need to step back and look inwards to take care of yourself if you feel any or combination of them. This is because over a long period of time, these stresses can have detrimental impact on your own wellbeing. Realize that it is alright to take a break and have time to yourself. Distance yourself from the place of stress outdoors, socialize, take care of other parts of your life, and maintain a healthy diet with physical exercise.3
Your Own Nutrition and Physical Health Is Important
Even if taking care of a loved one demands a lot of physical effort, that type of activity is called physical labour. Just like cooling down after an intense workout, you need routine systematic moderate to vigorous exercise to destress. Not only will you get time away from the source of stress, it will help you maintain a healthy weight, improve posture, and improve strength which will result in healthier heart ergo you become a better caretaker.3, 4
You are a Nutritionist, a Chef, and a Pharmacist to the one that needs care, but who will be those to you? Even in youth, a long bout of bad eating has you feeling lethargic, getting winded easily, and always falling ill. Try to eat the standard 3 meals a day that consists mostly of vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. But if you have to, break down the amount of food eaten in 3 meals into smaller meals. And nutritional supplements are not only for the elderly or those in need of care. It can be for you too, especially if you cannot have proper nutrition through food. Ensure products come in many flavours and forms and have the right ratio of nutrients and minerals to fill in what is missing from daily requirements.1, 4
Accept that You Need Help Too
In Myanmar, it is culturally controversial to talk about a caregiver’s stress or a caregiver openly admitting they can no longer attend to their duties. We are afraid of judgement, therefore feel guilty if we say no. Focus on what you really can do and seek social support for others. Even if you believe you have the will to power through, letting others help you is beneficial. Enlist a friend, a family member or professional help to aid in the caregiving. You may want to isolate yourself because of the stress, but as experts say, it is never healthy to keep it all inside. If you have to, seek a medical professional for yourself to get treated physically and mentally.3, 4
Why Nutrition and Exercise Maintains Muscle Strength
Our body’s compositions change as we go through aging. As we reach our senior years, it becomes more important than ever to have good nutrition and work out to maintain muscle strength. Like the saying ‘use it or lose it’ or ‘well-oiled machine runs better’, the more effort we put in maintaining muscle strength has more benefits than none.1
It helps with Your Independence
Our musculoskeletal system makes up about half of our body weight in an average person. That is why our independence in our seniors can be greatly diminished if any part of that system is hindered. Sarcopenia (age related muscle loss) not only gives you short term inconveniences like dropping things often due to loss of grip strength to long term major effects like mortal frailty. Sarcopenia is not something that happens when you are legally considered a senior. It happens as early as your 40s at a rate of losing 3% to 5% muscle mass every decade after. That rate can be higher if we do not do our best to keep our musculoskeletal system healthy.2
Helps you get less ill
Like how important a healthy musculoskeletal system is to your general well being, we tend to not think of the fact how healthy muscles help with our immunity. Being ill for long periods of time not only has long term physical damages, it damages you mentally as you cannot enjoy life as much. A senior who has stronger muscle strength will have a better amino production to help their immune system respond better to illnesses. Since chronic inflammation is common in the elderly (dysregulation of the immune system), building muscle strength can help release the required molecules to reduce its adverse effects. This in turn reduces the risk of developing other chronic illnesses.3
It helps with your heart’s health
Do you wonder why working on cardio always comes up when it concerns living a higher quality life? It is because your heart is also one of the most important organs to keep healthy for muscle health as well. While you eat cleaner food and exercise, it reduces visceral fat and cholesterol in the body, which are both things that affect heart health and blood with fatty deposits. Coming back to the saying ‘use it or lose it’, exercising the heart, healthily, enhances blood flow, and general distribution of nutrients inside the muscle. The ultimate payoff is that if you feel less winded and have better stamina due to a healthier body and heart, you will enjoy life more.2, 3
Always consult a medical professional before making a major nutrition plan and exercise regime change so that you can maximise effectiveness and reduce injuries. If you want an extra nutritional boost to cover for nutrients missed from food, supplements are also an option. Many of Ensure’s nutritional supplements have been formulated to include Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D & K and HMB (Hydroxymethylbutyrate, a metabolite of leucine for muscle building), to help aid in maintaining muscle strength for healthy aging.4
Your body will thank you for being in top shape but make sure to seek a medical professional’s advice prior to trying out a new exercise program or a nutritional plan. For a boost of nutrition and assurance that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs, supplements like Ensure can cover all your Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D & K requirements. Ensure also contains HMB (Hydroxymethylbutyrate, a metabolite of leucine for muscle building), to help your body maintain its muscle strength.4
Why Everyday Strength is Key to Aging Happily
As all things in the world, aging is all part of our existence. While we cannot stop the clock from ticking, how well we live through all of it is within our control. To age strong and happy, from the food we eat, to the company we keep, and to how we view everyday life itself, all have a part to play.1
Being active is not all about working out at the gym
To live a healthy life, exercise and diet is key, but it is not all about that. Being active is not all about working out, but includes doing things with friends, helping the community, and traveling. Even taking up a hobby or two will help aid brain cells function better, thus slowing down mental cognitive decline. These activities are what you call reinforced activities. They give the mind and body opportunities to learn, engage, and produce the serotonin (key hormone in stabilizing mood) they need. And being active in any shape or form helps the brain both physically and mentally by improving heart health. Go out into the world, travel, and begin to scratch things off your bucket list, and maybe bring a friend along.2, 3
Relationships and Finding those with similar interests
It is human for us to want to see the days where responsibilities are not required and do only the things that make us happy. Along the way, finding like minded people, developing strong relationships, and having caring family makes it all the better. Happiness has a significant impact on how well we age. Loneliness makes life shorter is just not a saying, it is actually quite harmful to the quality of life. Loneliness has been said to be as harmful as chronic physical illnesses, diabetes, and hypertension. Also when you find people that truly care for you, when you do face an illness, getting through them can become easier.1, 3
Food for Thought
Even if we are still young at heart once we are older, we still have a body to take care of. Just by paying a little more attention to what we eat can greatly lower the risk of illnesses that are associated with aging. In the end, you need a healthy body to keep up with your young mind. You do not have to really do much nor have to follow any of social media’s popular food trends. Just avoid eating too much overly processed meats and packaged foods which tend to be loaded with sugars and sodium. Make being healthy a priority and include more servings of dark colored fresh fruits, vegetables, or foods rich in fiber and carotenoids.1, 2
Before making any major physical activity change or subscribing to a diet plan to maximise effectiveness and reduce injuries, always seek a medical professional’s advice first to avoid injuries and health hazards. Moreover, reaching for nutritional supplements like Ensure will help cover nutrients that you are missing out on. Ensure has been scientifically formulated to fit a senior’s nutritional needs to help maintain everyday strength with Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D & K and HMB (Hydroxymethylbutyrate, a metabolite of leucine for muscle building).1