Community Blog

Senior Nutrition Impacts Overall Quality of Life

By Debbie Humphrey

If you have ever shared a meal with family, you may have noticed Great Aunt Alice “eating like a bird,” spooning-out small portions of food, picking at it with her fork, actually eating very little. The same may have been true of Uncle Frank, who was forced to get dentures that never really fit quite right.

I have made the point to mention this topic in numerous blogs over the years, because it is so very important. Senior nutritional needs evolve with age due to physiological and perceptual, and age-related changes, but it is how they adapt to this evolution and prioritize senior nutrition that means the difference between a healthy or poor quality of life.

We all need food to fuel our bodies, but as we age, our metabolism and energy-expenditure levels slow down. Seniors don’t need to consume as much food or as many calories as they did when they were younger, more active and vital. However, just because seniors don’t need as many calories, doesn’t mean they don’t require certain amounts of vitamins and minerals so the body has the fuel it needs to function at its optimum.

Like with Uncle Frank, dental and oral issues can limit the ability to chew, swallow, taste, and enjoy food. Ill-fitting dentures can make it difficult to chew food. A lack of saliva that causes dry mouth may inhibit the ability to help break down food to swallow properly. Diminished taste buds alter the flavors of foods, where salty and savory becomes sour and bitter. Even a decline in the sense of smell may prevent the enjoyment of former favorite foods.

Digestive changes also play a critical role when it comes to senior nutrition. My referral partners at aPlaceforMom suggest, “Chronic gastritis, constipation, delayed stomach emptying, and gas may…lead to avoiding fruits and vegetables, as well as other healthy foods. Thus, the food categories that should be emphasized may get eliminated instead.”

Having been a caregiver for many years, I have also witnessed cases of senior malnutrition due to these and other factors.

Malnutrition is not simply a lack of food. It is the failure to get proper nutrition. Malnutrition is seen in varying degrees in the elderly, along with varying vitamin and calcium deficiencies. Malnutrition is due to undernutrition, nutrient deficiencies or imbalances. Most physicians do not see frank malnutrition anymore, such as scurvy. Instead, they encounter milder malnutrition symptoms, such as loss of appetite, general malaise or lack of overall interest and wellness,” according to aPlaceforMom.

So how can we as family members and caregivers help improve senior nutrition and eliminate the possibilities of even the mildest forms of malnutrition? There are a number of ways we can help.

If physiological and psychological issues make it a challenge to shop for groceries and prepare healthy meals, meal preparation for seniors an in-home caregiver can help by acquiring and cooking nutritious foods, including colorful fruits and vegetables, good sources of lean protein, and whole grains, all of which are vital for seniors to maintain higher levels of energy and a healthier lifestyle.

Seniors with difficulties swallowing will benefit from pureed food, nutritious shakes and smoothies, and beverage thickeners that can help. These may also be a solution for seniors with no teeth.

Dentures and other oral prosthetics that don’t fit properly should be examined and adjusted by a Dentist as soon as possible. If a senior is unable to take themselves to the dentist, safe transportation assistance by a caregiver can easily provide a solution, which can make all the difference in that person’s ability to chew and enjoy food again!

Additional factors for senior nutritional deficiencies that may not be so obvious are financial concerns; the loss of a spouse or loved one; extended hospital or institutional stays, where nutrition isn’t promised; or a lack of interest in cooking or eating alone.

Seniors typically experience common deficiencies of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, folic acid, calcium, and niacin. These deficiencies can improve if the following United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], recommendations are implemented daily:

Fruits [1½ to 2 ½ cups, fresh, frozen or canned] – A ½ cup of cut-up fruit is the equivalent of a 2” peach or ¼ cup of dried fruit. Be careful of canned fruits that are packed in syrup, because they contain an abundance of sugars.

Vegetables [2 to 3½ cups, fresh, frozen, or canned] – 1 cup of cut-up, fresh vegetables is the equivalent of 2 cups uncooked, leafy greens. Be careful of canned veggies that often include higher levels of sodium (salt). Check labels and opt for low sodium varieties.

Grains [5-10 ounces] – 1 ounce of grains is the equivalent of a small muffin, a slice of bread, a cup of flaked, ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice or whole-grain pasta.

Proteins [5-7 ounces] – 1 ounce of meat, fish or poultry is the equivalent of 1 egg, ¼ cup of cooked beans or tofu, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. Choose lean proteins like salmon, ground turkey, and skinless chicken breasts are lower in fat and provide an excellent building block for stronger muscles.

Dairy [3 cups fat-free or low fat] – 1 cup of milk is the equivalent of 1 cup of yogurt or 1½ to 2 ounces of cheese. One cup of cottage cheese is the same as ½ cup of milk. Low fat dairy is an excellent source of vitamin D, so seniors should include several servings of these each day.

These dietary recommendations strongly apply to seniors who are battling diabetes, heart disease or other chronic illnesses, along with those challenged with disabilities. Every effort should be made to make certain these seniors are eating nutritious meals to properly manage their conditions. [Please remember to always consult your physician about your specific dietary recommendations.]

If money and budgets are perceptual constraints to eating a healthier diet, this bears repeating: by eating better, seniors should reap the benefits of increased energy for a healthier, more active lifestyle, requiring fewer medications and doctor visits, which are definitely nice ways to save!

If you or a special senior loved one is unable to go grocery shopping or prepare healthy meals, Home Helpers® compassionate caregivers can shop for and cook nutritious foods, while providing companionship during meals, so you or your loved one won’t have to dine alone. I am happy to offer a FREE consultation to assess all needs to match the perfect caregiver for you or your loved one.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award for 2017, 2018, 2019 & 2020. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠  727.942.2539