Getting the proper nutrition is important for people of all ages but eating right often becomes difficult for seniors. The elderly, who are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, may have a hard time getting all the nutrients required for a balanced diet. Malnutrition often presents itself as weight loss, disorientation, and lightheadedness and is often mistaken for illness or disease. If you take care of an elderly parent or grandparent there are plenty of steps you can take to help them get adequate nutrition as they get older.
The best way to find out why your loved one is not eating well is to pay attention and ask them questions. Be encouraging of honesty and openness and reassure them that they are not a burden to you or anyone else in your family. Remind them that they are important to you and that you are there to take care of them. Some of the possible causes of poor nutrition include a decrease in sensitivity of the senses of smell and taste. This affects their ability to taste and enjoy food making them less likely to eat food.
Another cause is side effects of medications which sometimes reduce appetite, make food taste strangely, or cause nausea. Many seniors are also on fixed or limited incomes and out of worry for money, they may cut back on grocery expenses or eat less-nutritious foods in favor of expensive nutritious food. Seniors also experience physical difficulties as they become frailer with age and deal with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Simple tasks like peeling fruit or standing for a long time to cook a meal become too challenging.
Here are some practical tips to ensure that your elderly senior is getting proper nutrition. Offer them nutritionally dense foods because many seniors don’t eat as much as they should. The food they do eat should be as nutritious as possible:
Offer whole and unprocessed foods that are high in calories like healthy fats like nut butters, nuts, and olive oil, whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and whole grain cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, and protein-rich beans, legumes, and dairy products.
Make food that is aromatic and flavorful. As elderly people’s senses become dulled with age, it is important to make foods that smell strongly delicious in order to stimulate their appetite. You can intensity flavors with herbs, marinades, dressings, and sauces. Combine textures such as yogurt with granola and switch between a variety of foods during one meal to keep food interesting.
Make eating a family occasion. Depressed seniors who feel lonely and isolated are less likely to take the time to sit down to eat a healthy meal. Sit down with the whole family or invite them over on a regular basis. When mealtime becomes an interesting and fun occasion, seniors are more likely to eat and more likely to enjoy what they are eating.
Promote healthy snacks in between meals. Many seniors don’t enjoy large meals so an alternative solution is to plan for several mini-meals throughout the day. Make the meals nutritionally dense with many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Cut back on high sodium meals and food with high saturated fat content.