As we age, it’s inevitable that our bodies change. A changing body means changing needs when it comes to nutrition. This can pose unique challenges that become further complicated by chronic illness and medication side effects. While this may sound overwhelming, there are many actions that can be taken to overcome these challenges. Below, we cover some of the most common nutrition challenges to be aware of, and what you or an elderly loved one can do in response.
Getting the right nutrients
As we age, the way our body absorbs and uses nutrients from food changes, so it becomes more important than ever to pay attention to the food you’re consuming, and what its nutritional value is. Often, since older adults tend to move and exercise less than when they were younger, less calories may be needed. However—this does not mean less nutrients! As we age, this is why consuming nutrient dense foods is so important. Needing less calories but more nutrients can create a challenge.
A focus on a variety of whole foods can help you or a loved one overcome this challenge. A healthy diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats is a good place to start. You may also need more of these specific nutrients as you age, including: Protein, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Incorporate foods that contain these nutrients into your diet. Resources like the MyPlate graphic for Older Adults can help you get a visual of what you need. Studies have shown that many of the whole foods that are nutrient dense are also linked to a healthier brain!
The potential for malnutrition
For many older adults, malnutrition can become a scary reality—and it isn’t just limited to those with lower incomes. It may be harder for an elderly loved one to physically get around, limiting the amount of times they can get to the grocery store, or reducing their ability to cook in the kitchen. While not the only factor, budget can come into play as well with fixed incomes that can become stretched thin with additional illnesses to treat and medications to buy.
If you’re a family caregiver, it’s important to make sure your loved one is getting the nutrients they need. Offer to help them shop, or do the grocery shopping and cooking for them if necessary. If your loved one is no longer able to shop or cook for themselves, it may also be time to consider assisted living to give them the best quality of life possible. If it’s a monetary challenge, helpful programs in your area, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are one of several options that exist to help.
A decreased appetite
If you or an elderly loved one are experiencing a decreased appetite, it’s important that you address it as soon as possible. This can lead to further health complications, including the challenges of not getting the right nutrients and eventually even malnutrition—both discussed above. Many factors can contribute to a loss of appetite, including a loss of taste and smell, emotional distress caused by the loss of a loved one, illness, or medicinal side effects.
If you do notice an abrupt change in appetite in yourself or a loved one, it’s important to visit a primary physician right away to determine if an undiagnosed illness or complication with a medication is the cause. For many, it can be normal to feel a loss of appetite as aging occurs. There are many ways an appetite can be peaked to help ensure you or a loved one are getting the calories and nutrients you need. These strategies include getting a solid eating routine in place, trying smaller portions and more mealtimes throughout the day, and keeping easy-to-eat nutrient filled snacks available. You can learn more about these strategies in our previous blog post, How to Encourage Seniors with Decreased Appetite to Eat.
With 19 specialized programs and facilities and 2,500 hundred dedicated caregivers, Loretto is dedicated to providing quality care to the Central New York Community. We proudly serve 9,000 residents and their families with a system of care that addresses the unique needs of every individual. Looking for more information on care for you and your loved one? Visit our Choosing Your Care page, or feel free to contact us!