6 Vital Nutrition Tips for Seniors

19 Comments

As people age, their diets may need to change, especially if their diets are not well-balanced. Generally, doctors will recommend a well-balanced diet for older adults, meaning that they should eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins and whole grains to maintain and improve overall health. According to Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, in addition to eating a healthful variety of foods, there are specific things a caregiver can incorporate into their their loved one's diet to boost his or her health.

Prepare Meals Rich in These Nutrients

  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids
    The acids have been proven to reduce inflammation, which can cause heart disease, cancer and arthritis. They can be found in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, and different types of fish. Your older relative should have foods rich in this nutrient twice per week. If this is impossible, check with their doctor to see if an Omega 3 supplement would be beneficial.
  • Calcium
    The need for calcium increases as people age. This is primarily to preserve bone health. One added benefit of calcium is that it helps to lower blood pressure. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults over the age of 50 get at least 1200 milligrams per day of calcium – equal to about four cups of fortified orange juice, dairy milk, or fortified non-dairy milks such as almond or soy. Leafy greens like kale and turnip greens are also great sources of absorbable calcium. Many people find it challenging to consume this much calcium per day by eating and drinking, so check with your loved one's doctor to see if he or she should take a calcium supplement.

Limit Sodium Content

For those with hypertension (high blood pressure) one of the most important things caregivers can do to help reduce a loved one's hypertension is to prepare foods that are low in sodium. Most people are surprised to find out that added table salt accounts for only a small percent of sodium content in food. Frozen, processed and restaurant foods are typically extremely high in sodium, and should be avoided or only be a very small part of the diet. Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, dry beans, unsalted nuts and nut butters, and grains like brown rice and oats are all foods that are naturally low in sodium, so try and incorporate them as much as possible in their diet.

Hydrate

As people age, they do not get thirsty very often, even though their bodies still need the same amount of liquids. If you notice that your loved one is not drinking liquids very often, make sure that you provide them with it. If they do not feel thirsty, chances are they may not think about drinking a glass of water.

If you are concerned that your loved one may not be properly hydrated, check his or her urine. Urine is the surest sign of hydration or lack of it. If their urine is clear and light, then they are most likely properly hydrated. If, however, their urine is dark and/or cloudy, they will need to start drinking more liquids.

How to Help a Senior Make Dietary Changes

Making dietary changes can be difficult for anybody. It can be especially difficult for older adults, though, because people get stuck in habits. If your loved one needs to make dietary changes to increase their health and well-being, there are specific things that you, the caregiver, can do to help with the change. Frechman recommends three important areas in which caregivers can help.

Incorporate Changes Gradually

Older people are usually skeptical of change. They need to make small changes gradually. As the caregiver, you should reinforce this and make sure that your loved one is incorporating the new foods into their diet.

For example, if your parent is diabetic and needs to adjust their carbohydrate intake consistency, incorporate oatmeal as breakfast once or twice per week. As they get used to it, oatmeal can be added to three to four times per week. If your parent normally eats white bread, give them a wheat bread sandwich a couple times per week, and gradually increase it so that white bread is completely cut out of their diet.

Set an Example

When an older adult has to change their diet for health reasons, they can feel singled out. Eating is a social activity and it is important to eat meals with your loved one. It is equally important that when you eat with them, you eat the same foods as them. When sitting down for a family meal, don't make a special meal for your aging loved one and something different for everybody else. By eating with them and eating the same foods as them, the dietary changes being made won't seem so drastic.

Make Smoothies

Sometimes older adults simply refuse to make necessary nutritional changes, even if they are doctor recommended. People with dementia, especially, may refuse to eat certain things. Be creative. If your loved one needs protein, try making them a smoothie with wheat germ. Wheat germ is not a supplement that may interact with prescription medications, but an actual food with very high amounts of protein. Sometimes, foods can be blended into a smoothie to ensure that your loved one consumes the necessary nutrients.


For more information on healthy eating habits for your elderly parent, visit the American Dietetic Association website.

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19 Comments

PROTEIN - Okay, as my own teeth are pretty functional when eating a T-bone, I won't argue with you on the evolutionary possibilities.

Since you seem open to my father continuing to eat his meat, then I think we're much in agreement. He also loves his eggs, be they scrambled, sunny side up, or in soup. He does not like vegetables or beans. Nuts he loves.

The remaining argument I have is that there is no need to "alter" an elderly person's diet in this way when they are old! My father, if a plate of "legumes" was placed in front of him, would - in his old fashioned way - politely decline to eat it, while saying they "taste great." In this way, if only presented with these sorts of options, he would slowly starve himself to death, or seek out candy and nuts.

Why do I assert this? Because it is exactly what happened to my father. He lost over 20 pounds when his wife took away the milk, skin of chicken, eggs, meat, butter, etc., from their diet in an attempt to "eat healthy" and because of her fear of diabetes. When they went to Souplantation, my father had nothing to eat and would woof down bowls of clam chowder, rather than the big plate of greenery. He was literally being starved to death.

When I saw this happening, I "forced" him to return to his old diet, and he was scarfing down steaks, beef bowls, buttered toast!, scrambled eggs. He put back on the weight, to a healthy level (not anywhere near obese) and much of his strength, vitality and yes, cognitive function. It was no easy struggle to counter the wife's "good" intentions as she had a mountain of newletters, recommendations, etc., though mostly geared toward middle-aged obese persons: which my father was not.

In my original comment, I was not so much against the "healthy" recommendations you suggested, it's great for me (middle-aged) to consider and likely adjustments and such are a beneifit.

But for an elderly person, and the super-elderly (80+) it can be a prescription for rapid decline and sarcopenia. Do you have some agreement with me on this aspect?
Thank you so much this sounds yummy for all of us. Haven't tried the bake fish yet for my husband and I use to eat salmon once a week. All we can do is try.
Why is it not good for her to have fruit with her meal? I know everyone is different and that I eat it with my meal for I have diabetes. I had sliced up one strawberry and she ate only one slice with her meal. Are their any great books or websites out their that help with caregiving and nutrition, exercise all that good stuff to help her for she is in early stage of AZ-mild and nothing is physically wrong with her at age 80. She is doing great but since she been with us she likes to just sat around. I try motivating her and it helps some than sometimes all her negativity just makes me feel like crap.
Ruth, thank you so much. I am learning something new everyday. ; )