Nutrition and Aging: What Seniors and Caregivers Should Know

Nutrition and Aging: What Seniors and Caregivers Should Know 01/19/2015

by Elmcroft Senior Living

Healthy cooking and managing nutrition for an aging loved can be challenging.  If you have an aging parent who lives alone you may find yourself wondering what they eat every day and how much of their diet is healthy.

There are a variety of reasons why seniors have poor diets.  Among those cited most often are the time and expense it takes to prepare healthy meals for one or two people rather than opt for convenience foods or fast food.

Older adults may also live with chronic health conditions that cause cooking to be difficult.  Osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s disease and vision impairments can make chopping, slicing, and dicing hard to do.  They can also increase the risk for a fire in a senior’s kitchen.

Finding transportation to and from the grocery store to replenish fruits and vegetables can also be more difficult for seniors who no longer drive.

As a result, it is more common for older adults to have a poor diet, leading to poor nutrition of the aging adult.  Experts believe nutrition and aging is an issue with as many as one in four seniors live with malnutrition.  If you are an adult child or caregiver, there warning signs that can signal your loved one may be suffering from a poor diet or malnutrition.

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Malnutrition among Older Adults

Some of the warning signs of malnutrition can be mistaken as normal aging.  If the senior you love exhibits more than one or two of these symptoms, it is probably time to talk with them and schedule a visit with their family physician:

  • Suffers from frequent colds and minor illnesses
  • Exhibits low energy level
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sadness and depression
  • Bruises and blemishes on skin
  • Problems with coordination and balance
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and favorite activities
  • Dry, flaking skin
  • Muscle pain and weakness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Confusion and forgetfulness

Nutrition Guidelines for Seniors

Nutrition scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University developed a comprehensive, easy to follow set of guidelines to help older adults make good nutrition choices.  They have a variety of resources online that can be downloaded and shared with your senior loved one to aid in developing menus to encourage better nutrition for your aging adult.

One that can help is My Plate for Older Adults.  Another one is My Food Pyramid for Older Adults.  They offer a visual representation of what you need to eat each day and what your plate should look at mealtime to promote optimal health and nutrition for older adults.

Helping a Senior Loved One Improve their Nutrition

If you are trying to find ways to help your aging loved one improve their diet, here are a few suggestions:

  • Reminder Calls: Check in by phone or video chat each day. Ask your senior loved one what they are planning to eat and encourage them to supplement meals with one or two healthy snacks.
  • Meals on Wheels: Call the local senior center or agency on aging to find out what options there are for a mobile meals program in your aging family member’s area. Most deliver healthy meals on a sliding scale fee once each day. Senior centers often have lunch available on weekdays at very reasonable costs.
  • InHome Caregiver: If your aging parent has health conditions that make meal preparations difficult, consider hiring an in-home caregiver to help. They can assist with menu planning, grocery shopping and meal preparations.
  • Delivery Services: Other options to help seniors eat healthy can include area grocery stores who deliver. The service makes it easier for them to gain access to fresh fruits, poultry, fish and vegetables when they don’t always have access to transportation.
  • Stock their Freezer: If you live close enough, take a day once or twice a month to prepare healthy entrees for your aging loved one and freeze them. If you stock up their freezer, all they will have to do is pop the meal in to the microwave to heat it up.

Our last piece of advice is to talk with your aging loved one’s primary care physician about any vitamins they should be taking. Seniors often require different dosages of some vitamins and minerals. For example, most physicians and nutritionists recommend adults increase the amount of vitamin D they take each day once they reach the age of 50.

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