Help Older Loved Ones Overcome Challenges to Eating Well
Eating a nutritious diet can add more years to our lives, 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 helps seniors maintain a healthy weight also.
But as we grow older, we can face barriers to good nutrition. Here are five common challenges to eating well and how you 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.
A trained, professional in-home caregiver can create 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.
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.
Most communities offer meal programs for older adults, such as Meals on Wheels or community dining programs. (Many of these programs are delivery-only.) 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.
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 discovered the convenience of grocery and restaurant delivery. You can help your loved one navigate the websites and install apps.
A 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.
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.
Seniors who are lonely often forget to eat – or they might turn to unhealthy, processed “comfort foods” that are higher in fat, salt, and sugar. And few people are motivated to cook for one. Community dining programs offer companionship that improves the appetite. Family members and friends can schedule regular meals with senior loved ones or have cooking gatherings to create nourishing meals their loved ones can freeze.
Watching a 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.
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. A 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 seniors follow the dietary recommendations of their health care professionals. As the leading provider of home care in Longboat Key and in all of Sarasota County, we provide professionally certified senior care services. Contact us at(941) 929-1966 for a free in-home consultation to discuss your care needs or concerns.