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.