I can’t get my mother to eat enough.
It’s not uncommon for us to hear this or something similar when a family first comes to Home Helpers.
The importance of proper nutrition is perhaps more important as we age than at any other time in our adult lives. Here in the United States, we are fortunate that at least most of our people have access to a ready supply of healthy food choices. That availability of choices, however, doesn’t always lead to the best choices.
Obstacles to good eating increase along with our age. Some seniors report that the foods they once enjoyed no longer taste the same. This can lead them to other selections – like those heavy in sugars and salts – that address their desire for flavor but offer much less in nutrition.
This is natural. As we grow older, our senses of taste and smell change. This is a constant change, that is most notable in our youth (ever try to get a young child to try something “new”?), but also in our older years. It’s sometimes helpful to experiment with different flavorings – herbs and spices – to bring out the flavors in dishes that we once enjoyed. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a bit more of one ingredient or using fresher herbs than had previously made something a favorite.
Other times, changes in our perception of taste can be a side effect of the medicines we take or even a specific combination of medicines. Check the literature that accompanies all of your loved one’s prescriptions for any possible interactions and never hesitate to discuss concerns with your physician. Remember, the doctor’s job is the patient’s overall wellbeing and proper nutrition is part of the package.
Some older people may not enjoy previously favored foods as much as before for reasons aside from flavor. Perhaps the texture is no longer appealing or biting or chewing certain foods causes some discomfort. Often this is the result of tooth or denture problems that your loved one’s dentist may be able to address.
It’s also possible that a food allergy or intolerance is at play. Again, our bodies change throughout our lives. So, just as a child may outgrow a food allergy or a lactose intolerance (for example), an older person may grow into one.
The United States Department of Agriculture offers the MyPlate program to help Americans choose the appropriate amounts of proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy we all should include in our meals. The University of Florida adopted these recommendations to the specific needs of seniors in a simple two-page flyer that families can keep handy for meal preparation. You can download a copy here.
Supporting healthy food decisions is an important part of the caregiver’s role. By maintaining the best possible nutrition, in combination with an appropriately active lifestyle, we can preserve the independence of our older loved ones for as long as possible.