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Help Older Loved Ones Overcome Challenges to Eating Well

Eating a nutritious diet can add more years to our life, and improve the quality of those years. A diet that is rich in nutrients, and low in unhealthy ingredients such as bad fats and added sugar and salt, lowers the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes, frailty, vision loss, and even Alzheimer’s disease. It also helps seniors maintain a healthy weight.

But as we grow older, we can face barriers to good nutrition. Here are five common challenges and how family can work with older loved ones to overcome them.

Loss of appetite. Age-related diminishing of taste, smell and vision, as well as changes in the digestive system, can make food seem less appealing. To enhance flavor, try marinades, condiments and spices. Older adults may be more sensitive to foods that are very spicy or sour—and of course, avoid excess salt.

Health problems. Loose or missing teeth, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, or the effects of a stroke can make it difficult to prepare meals, use utensils, chew and swallow. These problems should be addressed with your loved one’s health care provider. The doctor or dietitian might recommend soft foods, as well as modified cooking tools and eating utensils.

Financial challenges. Most communities offer meal programs for older adults, such as Meals on Wheels or community dining programs. (Many of these programs are delivery-only these days.) Your loved one also might qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Help your loved one contact their local senior services agency to learn more.

Transportation. When it’s no longer safe for an older adult to drive, getting groceries can be a real challenge! Family and friends can offer to pick up what their loved one needs, or take them to the market. Volunteers, senior transportation and ride-sharing companies might be an option. During the pandemic, older adults have discovered the convenience of grocery and restaurant delivery. Family can help their loved one navigate the websites and install apps.

Social isolation. Seniors who are lonely often forget to eat—or they might turn to unhealthy, processed “comfort foods” that are high in fat, salt and sugar. And few people are motivated to cook for one. Community dining programs offer companionship that improves the appetite. Family and friends can schedule regular meals with their loved one or have cooking gatherings to create nourishing meals their loved one can freeze.

Five ways home care supports senior nutrition

Meal preparation. A trained, professional in-home caregiver can serve as your loved one’s personal chef, creating meals and snacks your loved one enjoys, while modifying foods to comply with prescribed special diets such as soft, low-salt, low-fat or gluten-free. Your loved one can participate in menu planning; studies show food choice enhances appetite.

Shop for groceries. The professional caregiver can pick up groceries at the store if your loved one can’t go, or prefers not to. But for seniors with mobility or cognitive challenges who spend much of the time at home, a trip to the market can be a real treat! Getting a little exercise while making selections from pyramids of produce and aisles of colorful packages provides an appetite boost.

Companionship. Watching the caregiver create the meal and set a lovely table, and enjoying pleasant conversation during mealtime are more appetite boosters. And seniors with chewing or swallowing difficulties feel more confident with a supportive, nonjudgmental caregiver nearby.

Transportation. Grocery shopping is just the beginning. Your loved one may have regular appointments with their dentist, a dietitian, a speech-language therapist if they have a swallowing disorder, or an occupational therapist to help with eating and preparing foods. The caregiver can take your loved one to these appointments, and on trips out and about for exercise and to stay connected.

Memory care. People with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia may have decreased appetite and sense of thirst. They may have trouble using utensils and swallowing food. The professional caregiver can prepare special meals and provide supervision, assistance and encouragement as recommended by your loved one’s health care provider.

Right at Home caregivers are trained to help clients follow the dietary recommendations of their health care professionals. Contact your local Right at Home today and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.

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Right at Home offers in-home care to seniors and adults with disabilities who want to live independently. Most Right at Home offices are independently owned and operated, and directly employ and supervise all caregiving staff.
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