The Elderly and their Nutrition

How to improve what they eat
The elderly face many unique challenges to receive proper nutrition. Here are some guidelines to help make sure they are eating what they should.

It is estimated that one in four seniors suffer from some level of malnutrition. Poor nutrition exacerbates existing illnesses and increases the risk of other illnesses such as pneumonia, osteoporosis, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and gastrointentestinal problems. Poor nutrition also contributes to mental confusion. Those who are at the most risk for malnutrition are those over the age of 70, who live alone and are housebound, who have poor appetite and don’t eat balanced meals and who live on a limited budget.

If you are the primary care give to an elderly person it is very important to supply a diet that is customized, based on his or her needs. You should carefully check the labels on all food products. Do they require sodium-free food? Be sure to ask all the right questions as dietary needs and problems change as a person ages. At all times, keep the doctor informed as to what they are and are not eating.

When preparing foods for an elderly person, start by relying on a few common sense rules. First, prepare foods from all the different food groups. Second, use an interesting color palette such as a plate with green, yellow, red, white and brown foods. Try this and you will see that you have probably covered the major food groups. Third, fresh foods are crucial. If something has been out of the ground for almost a week, much of its nutritional value has been lost. Try not to use canned or frozen foods as often as you can.

Water is often the forgotten nutrient. Many seniors suffer from dehydration simply because they do not drink enough fluids throughout the course of the day. The thirst urge often diminishes with age, so dehydration can sneak up on us. Make sure your elder drinks plenty of water; if water is boring, substitute juices and other nutrition drinks.
Packaged foods should be avoided and discouraged. Most of the nutrients have been stripped away. An elderly person needs vitamins and minerals now more than ever to stay active and healthy. The elderly person you are caring for should be involved in the food shopping process. Make a grocery list and buy exactly what they want. Take them with you to the store if it is not to logistically challenging. It is important to emphasize independence as often as possible. You can even use the electric carts that most supermarkets provide for the elderly or handicapped.

No one is a better health care advocate for your elder than you. These few simple guidelines can help ensure that the elderly person in your life is getting the right nutrition. You are also letting them keep their independence by being involved in the decisions

– Cheryl Zangrilil