Nutritional Needs of Seniors
Nutrition is a touchy subject for most families. It’s one of the most direct examples of role reversal that happens during the aging process. As children, we would sit at the dinner table for hours with a plate of cold peas staring back at us. It was drilled into our heads that if we did not eat our vegetables, we would not grow up big and strong. Fortunately, in my family, we had a small poodle named Ninki who served as the garbage disposal for all those unwanted vegetables.
Many years later you can see a very similar situation. But this time instead of a child staring down at the food, it’s an older adult.
The top five reasons people lose interest food or have a change of appetite include:
1. Illness or medical conditions
2. Medication can cause food to taste different or change your desire for certain foods
3. Changes in smell or taste may alter a person’s appetite
4. Loneliness and depression (many times loss of a family member can trigger this event)
5. Lifestyle change such as moving
Because diet and nutrition can be such touchy subjects today I thought I’d share a few things I learned while caregiving.
When my mom was not feeling well, I noticed that offering her smaller more frequent meals was much more appealing. Sometimes a senior will look down at a large plate of food and instead of feeling anticipation to enjoy the meal, can feel like it’s going to be work to get through it. So offering more smaller portions throughout the day can help them from feeling overwhelmed, but still get the necessary nutrients in.
While offering her all these meals though, I made the mistake of giving her too many choices. I would prepare so many meals and snacks that her refrigerator was busting at the seams. My mom never directly said anything to me, but later my Gram shared that my mom was overwhelmed with all the food in her fridge. Along with that, it was a lot of unnecessary work and extra pressure I put on myself. Throughout caregiving, people will ask how they can help, and this is a great chore for a friend, neighbor or a paid provider. When I look back, there were a lot of things that I could have handed off to many people who were always willing to help. If you’re going through this, I highly recommend taking advantage of this if you have the opportunity and using that time to simply be there for your parent as their child, not their personal chef.
As you age focusing on highly nutritional foods is very important. Fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, lean protein and low-fat dairy, are all good choices. Another thing that is very important is hydration! As you age, you don’t get thirsty like you did when you were younger. It might take a conscious effort to track fluid intake, especially during those hot summer months. For this, I recommend buying a water bottle for your senior so you can easily measure how much they’ve drunk throughout the day.
While focusing on making sure your senior (and yourself) are eating whole, nutritious foods, make sure you’re not giving them anything that could have adverse effects with medications. Many seniors require consistent medications, but plenty of people don’t know this combination can change the effects of certain foods! For example, grapefruits and grapefruit juice in combination with certain drugs can block the body from breaking down a medicine which causes a toxic effect. These include blood pressure medications, some antibiotics, thyroid medications, and more. Black licorice, Tyramine (sometimes found in fermented bread and cheeses) and certain salt substitutes are also things to look out for. This is not intended to scare you and your senior from never touching licorice again, but if your senior is on medications or has any changes, make sure you find out if any foods can effect them.
It is essential to maintain a healthy diet as you age. Consider the circumstances that may have caused someone to have a change in appetite before applying those same holdout techniques that were used on you as a child. For example, change the texture of food by blending, cooling or heating. Remeber, to always check with your doctor before implementing dietary changes.
What are some tricks you use to get your parents (or kids!) to eat?