As a society, we have never been more aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet to preserve our health and live longer. This is also true of seniors today! Just like children have certain dietary needs, seniors and older adults do too. Our bodies and metabolism slow as we age, making it easier to eat fewer calories. Fewer calories, however, does not mean less nutrition! Let’s look at the role nutrition plays as we age….
Chronic Conditions and Nutrition
Many chronic health problems are not dealt with effectively because seniors don’t get the nutrition they need. Some of the issues that may result from poor nutrition include, but are not limited to:
• Higher risk of injury from falling
• Slowed healing times on open wounds
• Higher infection risk
• Difficulty full recovering after a surgical procedure
• Overall weakness, making it challenging to care for oneself
Nearly 70% percent of all seniors have to manage at least one chronic health issue or illness. This means that the food we eat has a huge impact on our health. Good nutrition will not only make seniors feel better all around but also increase stamina and strength. This, in turn, increases our “feel good” chemicals and helps to battle off the depression that plagues many seniors. The most common chronic health problems that affect our 65 and over population are heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. COPD also becomes a risk for older adults, simply because the pulmonary system is not getting what it needs to stay healthy.
When the heart has to work harder, this causes us to burn calories much faster, making nutrition critically important. We’ve all heard our doctors say that losing extra weight and changing one’s diet can often prevent or reverse heart disease.
Nothing makes you pay attention to nutrition quite like diabetes. It is easily managed with diet and exercise and in some cases, medication. It is a very serious disease and can have terrible effects on the body, but with so many options to treat it nowadays, it’s easy to forget how devastating diabetes can be if not managed well.
Seniors who have diabetes must learn to lower blood sugar through diet and medication. The results of high blood glucose levels if gone unchecked can be very damaging. The most common effects of diabetes are damage to the nerves, eyes, and kidneys. Eating well and getting proper nutrition is absolutely essential to manage diabetes. Diabetics often struggle with being overweight, so once again, nutrition is key to good health!
High Blood Pressure
Seniors who struggle with high blood pressure need a diet of abundant fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and decreased sodium intake. It’s easy to get too much salt in the American diet because of the staggering amount of processed food we eat. Nearly three-quarters of the population take in way too much salt, which is a recipe for blood pressure that is too high. Decreasing the sodium in a senior’s diet can help to prevent heart disease, kidney failure, and stroke. You might think it’s just a little salt shaker, but too much salt can have disastrous results on our health.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD causes the lungs to narrow, decreasing the oxygen and blood flow needed to stay healthy. Much like asthma, COPD is a chronic condition that must be managed properly. With good nutrition, along with medications, seniors who suffer from COPD are living longer than ever. Diet plays a big part in managing COPD because eating too many carbs causes inflammation of the lungs. Healthy fats should be increased.
Malnutrition in Seniors
Did you know that 6 out of 10 senior adults deal with the risk of being hungry? That number translates to several million people! Not only does malnutrition have an impact on our health, but it also causes our healthcare costs to continue to increase, due to the illnesses that accompany malnutrition.
While it definitely takes a toll on our finances, seniors who are malnourished are also at a much higher risk of falls and other injuries. Falls are the number one reason seniors visit the ER each year, and they can often have terrible complications, including death.
What Does Geriatric Nutrition Look Like?
• Plenty of water and less sugar in beverages
• Lots of vegetables, with a limited amount of potatoes
• Whole grain cereals and other foods that are fortified with vitamin B12
• Abundant raw fruits
• Increased healthy fats, such as olive oil, while eliminating trans fats.
• Food that is seasoned with spices other than salt
• Limited carbs, such as rice, potatoes, pasta and white bread
• Three servings per day of non-fat dairy, such as buttermilk and yogurt
• Plenty of fish, beans, poultry and nuts & seeds
• Limited amount of red meat and certain cheeses
• Decrease processed meats and fatty meats such as bacon
A diet of 2000 calories per day is generally the rule of thumb among all adults, including seniors. The key is to get those calories from a large variety of foods. When it comes to nutrition, seniors need to make every bite count to get the full range of vitamins and minerals needed to sustain good health!
Home Helpers Can Help
Home Helpers understands the challenges our aging population faces as nutritional needs change. We offer solutions to help with everything from grocery shopping to meal preparation. Our caregivers are trained to look for signs of malnutrition and dehydration that can cause critical complications in seniors.
Our vision is to be the extended family when family can’t be there – to make life easier. If you’re worried about geriatric nutrition, contact us for a free in-home consultation.