Meeting seniors’ unique nutritional requirements
By Liz Foss (Seniors Helping Seniors)
Nutrition is a topic which comes up regularly with anyone who works with seniors, or even knows a senior. And that is just about everyone!
All of us can benefit from eating healthy, but seniors have unique dietary needs. While calorie needs may decline, nutritional requirements don’t. Foods containing high levels of vitamins and minerals are essential, in combination with lower levels of sodium, added sugar and saturated fats. The following list represents foods as recommended by the USDA to be a part of a senior’s diet:
- Bright-colored vegetables such as carrots and broccoli.
- Deep-colored fruit such as berries and peaches.
- Whole enriched and fortified grains and cereals such as brown rice and 100 percent whole wheat bread.
- Low- and non-fat dairy products such as yogurt and low-lactose milk.
- Dry beans and nuts, fish, poultry, lean meat and eggs.
- Liquid vegetable oils, soft spreads low in saturated and trans fats and spices to replace salt.
- Fluids such as water and fat-free milk.
Eating a balanced diet can be a challenge for a number of reasons. Depression, loss of appetite or physical illness are all reasons that seniors may stop eating properly. Arthritis may make it difficult to prepare meals, dentures may not fit properly, or standing for prolonged periods may be painful. Taste buds become less sensitive in some cases, meaning that people may start using more salt just when they should be using less, and their sugar intake may be higher than recommended because that craving hasn’t diminished.
The effects of not eating properly go beyond a few extra pounds. Cognitive function can be impacted by poor nutrition. Since many seniors take multiple medications, the interaction of medication and food is important to understand. Even knowing whether meds should be taken on a full or empty stomach can make a big difference as to their effectiveness.
If you can dine with an older parent for some of the mealtimes, you can at least make sure the eating space is comfortable and welcoming. Encouraging a routine that includes setting the table attractively and eating at a moderate pace could be helpful. Patience with a slow eater is essential. If you discover there are physical problems, such as difficulty swallowing, help your parent get a medical opinion.
Since mealtimes have such a social component to them, someone who finds themselves alone may struggle with maintaining a mealtime routine. If you can’t be there on a regular basis, many senior centers have a low-cost meal that is nutritious and offers socialization. Meals on Wheels is an option in many towns, as well. Some families use an online calendar to coordinate with other family member to ensure their loved one has company at mealtime.
Hiring someone to come in at mealtimes is another option. Helping your senior to receive adequate nutrition can have the additional benefits of socialization, prevention of cognitive decline and improved medication effectiveness.
For an excellent resource on nutrition for older adults, visit eldereats.com.
Liz Foss runs Seniors Helping Seniors, a non-medical in-home care agency. Having worked as an accountant for nonprofits for many years, Foss now has her own business, which hires active seniors to help people remain in their homes for as long as possible. Seniors Helping Seniors provides services in Worcester County. For more information, visit seniorshelpingseniors.com/worcesterarea, call (508) 885-6004 or email Foss at email@example.com.