Many seniors don’t eat as well as they should. A survey by Ross Laboratories found that 30 percent of seniors skip at least one meal a day, while another study found that 16 percent of seniors consume fewer than 1000 calories a day, which is insufficient to maintain adequate nutrition. There are many reasons why a senior may skip a meal:
Possible Causes of Poor Nutrition in Seniors
Reduction in Senses of Smell, Taste, and Eyesight
The aging process itself is a barrier to good nutrition since it is common for appetites to diminish as a person ages. A decline in the senses of smell and taste also affect a person’s ability to taste and enjoy food. If the visual perception of the meal isn’t appetizing, a senior is less likely to eat as much as he should.
Side effects of medication
Certain medications (whether over-the-counter or prescription) can reduce appetite, cause nausea, or make food taste differently. If a senior doesn’t feel hungry due to medication side effects, she is less likely to eat even though her body does need food and calories.
Poor dental health
Seniors are more likely to suffer from dental problems. Ill-fitting dentures, jaw pain, mouth sores and missing teeth can make chewing painful. These factors make it increasingly difficult for the elderly to eat healthy foods.
Lack of transportation
Shopping is difficult with many food stores located in large shopping malls and on crowded streets. In order to go grocery shopping, a senior must drive to the store, navigate through heavy traffic and park far away from the door. Add snow and ice to the mix and you have a very treacherous situation for the elderly.
Unwillingness to Cook
Seniors can become frail as they age, especially when dealing with debilitating conditions like fibromyalgia, arthritis, vertigo (dizziness) and disability. Physical pain and poor strength can make even simple tasks (opening a can, peeling fruit, and standing long enough to cook a meal) too challenging.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and poor memory can hurt a senior’s ability to eat a variety of foods on a regular schedule and remember what to buy at the store. One may keep eating the same foods over and over without realizing it, or skip meals entirely because she doesn’t know the last time that she ate.
A meal is often enjoyed more when the event is shared with another person or a group.
As people age, life can become more difficult. Their loved ones may be gone (or far away), their body may be failing them, even if their mind is sharp, and loneliness can take its toll. Feeling blue or depressed can decrease one’s appetite, or make one feel apathetic about caring for his health. Depression is a manageable disease when treated correctly, but left untreated it can lead to many other nutrition and health problems.
Senior Nutrition Solutions
If you are concerned about the diet of an elderly person in your life, here are some practical tips to ensure he or she is getting proper nutrition:
Grow Your Own Food
Consider raised-bed planters at a height of 30” making it possible to conveniently grow fresh tomatoes, strawberries, and appealing vegetables. If that’s not practical, buy from farmer’s markets where the food is as fresh as possible. Many deliver seasonal produce to your doorstep.
Enhance aromas, flavors, and colors
Appealing foods may help stimulate appetite, especially in someone whose senses of taste and smell aren’t what they used to be. Seniors can intensify flavors with herbs, marinades, dressings and sauces. Switching between a variety of foods during one meal can also keep the meal interesting. Try combining textures, such as yogurt with granola, to make foods seem more appetizing.
Make eating a social event
Many seniors who live alone or suffer from depression may stop cooking meals, lose their appetites, and depend on convenience foods. If you are worried that your parent or grandparent isn’t eating properly, make meals a family occasion. Bring a hot meal over to her home or invite her to your house on a regular basis. She may become more interested in food when other people are around.
Encourage healthy snacking
Many seniors don’t like to eat large meals or don’t feel hungry enough to eat three full meals a day. One solution is to encourage or plan for several mini-meals throughout the day.
If this is the case, make sure each mini-meal is nutritionally-dense with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Whole grains and fortified cereals are a good source of folate, zinc, calcium, Vitamin E and Vitamin B12, which are often lacking in a senior’s diet.
Cut back on prepared meats, which are high in sodium and saturated fat.
Take care of dental problems
Maintaining proper oral health can enhance nutrition and appetite. Make sure dentures fit properly and problems like cavities and jaw pain are being properly managed. Insurance plans, including Medicare, cover certain dental procedures.
Take them to the store
If lack of transportation is an issue, take your loved on to the grocery yourself. You can also hire a helper or neighbor to do this if you aren’t available. Another option is to order his groceries for him, either from local grocers that make home deliveries (for an additional fee) or from an online grocery website.
If poor memory is interfering with good nutrition, schedule meals at the same time each day and give visual and verbal reminders about when it’s time to eat.
Maintain food storage
Keep extra food on-hand in case of an emergency. Elderly people who live alone should keep some canned and non-perishable foods in the cupboard in case weather or health problems make it difficult to go shopping.
Use supplements carefully
While it’s tempting to take vitamin supplements to make up for nutritional shortfalls, be careful about toxicity. The elderly do not process Vitamin A as quickly as younger people do, making them susceptible to Vitamin A toxicity, for example. Certain vitamins can also interact with medications, so make sure you or your loved ones discuss the idea of supplements with their health care provider.
Rincon del Rio understands issues related to aging, including the importance of nutrition. We grow our own food, have a nutritionist on site, and work with a professional staff to insure our food is delicious, appealing, and healthy.