Good nutrition is a concern for us from birth and throughout our lives.
Or at least it should be a concern!
We are all trying to be healthy as we age but it is extremely important that our seniors are being well nourished so they can enjoy an optimal quality of life.
Unfortunately, senior nutrition is not always easy come but more like easy go!
Seniors health is impacted when they aren’t eating as well as they should.
Impeding Seniors’ Nutrition Intake
For seniors, there are many factors that can impede their intake.
- As they get older, seniors begin to have difficulty chewing. The first things to leave the menu are foods that are more difficult to chew such as protein foods like meat and poultry. This can have a negative effect on muscle mass and we often see muscle wasting or sarcopenia in elders who have difficulty chewing. Dentures may not fit or they may have poor dentition causing mouth pain when they eat.
- Swallowing can also be a problem due to medical issues such as stroke or weakened muscles. Eating softer foods instead of fresh items that aren’t as easy to chew and swallow can mean that seniors are keeping many nutrient dense foods off the menu.
- Some seniors are physically impaired due to arthritis or immobility and find it difficult to prepare their own meals. They can become easily tired when preparing meals or have trouble getting food into their home because of transportation issues. Making a bowl of soup or using other convenience items becomes the norm. Gripping lids, holding utensils or carrying pots to the stove can be hard for fragile seniors.
- Seniors also may decrease their intake (and even appetites) when they have to eat all their meals alone. Loneliness is an unfortunate concern for many seniors that can lead to under nutrition.
- Multiple medications and potential interactions could inhibit a senior’s appetite. This is often not thought about by the medical team to be a risk factor but it can lead to poor intake. Altered taste as a result of many medications can reduce meal enjoyment. Some seniors who have lived with chronic disease for years can be over-restrictive with their diets eliminating foods which are nourishing.
- Many times, a loss of appetite stemming from a variety of causes can lead to malnutrition in our seniors. They may need help getting to the root cause of loss of appetite so it can be reversed.
Ways to Improve Seniors’ Diets
There are many ways that seniors and their family members can intervene to improve nutritional intake so that they can lead a healthier and happier life as they age.
Solutions to improve senior nutrition and make their meals count:
Congregate Meal Programs
Most communities have some type of meal program for seniors. Congregate meals are offered at day programs, church outreach programs and senior centers where not only does a senior get a hot meal but also some friendship and social engagement.
Getting to a program of this type is a great way to fight loneliness because seniors have peers to share a meal with instead of always eating alone. Social stimulation is a great appetite stimulant.
There is a senior center called the Friendly Fork in Colorado that serves such appetizing foods that seniors consider it more like a local restaurant and enjoy the friendships made there.
Home Meal Delivery
There are a variety of ways you can send meals to your senior that will make it easier for them to get better nutrition. Organizations such as home delivery services and Meals on Wheels can bring your senior daily meals as well as a check in from a friendly face.
There are also companies from which you can order meals online that will come frozen and your senior only has to reheat in the microwave. You select the food choices.
Local restaurants may also be a source of home meal delivery of their favorite menu items.
Home delivery of meal kits is on the rise. These membership services send the ingredients that then need to be cooked by your senior.
It is fresher food and more seasonal variety than what they might get elsewhere however it requires them to be able to cook for themselves. The beauty of these programs is it gives them more variety, fresh recipes and no shopping.
Some grocery stores in your senior’s neighborhood may deliver, removing transportation as an obstacle to better eating. They can prepare a list and get what they want.
If their local grocer doesn’t deliver, there are more online grocers such as Peapod that will deliver.
In addition, local entrepreneurs in many communities perform personal grocery shopping services and taxi companies may provide deliveries.
Seniors will enjoy time spent with family, so if family members can bring in some meals, take turns taking seniors to a restaurant or gathering in a family group not just at the holiday but throughout the year, this intervention can give seniors the opportunity for good food, family traditions and fellowship.
Good Nutrition Can Impact Alzheimer’s
Seniors who are at a lower than recommended weight as they age have been shown through a recent research study to have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, there was a link between lower body weight and more extensive deposits of Alzheimer’s-related beta-amyloid protein in the brain.
“Finding this association with a strong marker of Alzheimer’s disease risk reinforces the idea that being underweight as you get older may not be a good thing when it comes to your brain health,” senior study author Dr. Gad Marshall said.
“A likely explanation for the association is that low BMI (body mass index) is an indicator for frailty — a syndrome involving reduced weight, slower movement and loss of strength that is known to be associated with Alzheimer’s risk,” he added .
Good nutrition is important to not only prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and sarcopenia but also to maintain a good quality of life to keep life in their years.
We need to help seniors make every forkful count!