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Nutrition for Older Adults

Eating a healthy diet is important for everyone, but older adults have additional nutritional needs. Adults over 50 may not be able to absorb enough vitamin B12, and people over 70 require extra calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health. It is usual for a person's appetite to change with age, and older adults are also at risk of dehydration as the sensation of thirst declines.  

Food is one of the cornerstones of our culture and one of the most important keys to our overall health and quality of life.

What Causes Poor Nutrition?

There are many factors that can impact an elder's nutrition:

  • Changes in the body that affect how food tastes, often resulting in food being bland and unappetizing

  • Physical challenges (such as lack of strength, energy, or ability to grasp utensils) that create difficulties in cooking, shopping, or eating 

  • Loss of appetite due to health conditions, depression, or grief

  • Dental issues that result in pain, sensitivity, or difficulty with chewing

  • Difficulty swallowing because of a medical issue

  • Medication side effects that affect appetite or taste

  • Low vision makes it difficult to shop or prepare food.

  • Memory changes, such as forgetting to shop, how to prepare food, or to eat.  Also, overeating because the person forgot they already ate.

  • Financial concerns that lead to cutting back on healthy foods or food in general

  • Transportation issues that affect the ability to shop

  • Loneliness and lack of desire to cook for oneself or eat alone

 

Practical Tips to Help Your Aging Loved One with Eating and Their Diet

  1. Keep foods visible: Ensure healthy foods are always readily available and in sight. Place grab-and-go snacks at eye level in the refrigerator or put individually wrapped protein bars or snacks on the kitchen counter.

  2. Pump up the flavor: The dulling of the taste sensation significantly affects how seniors perceive food and can lessen their feelings of hunger. To help enhance a senior’s experience,  alter recipes to include more flavorful spices, herbs, and vegetables.

  3. Try smoothies: If you’re having difficulty getting a senior to eat, smoothies provide an easy way to get fruits and vegetables into a diet; they are portable and taste great.

  4. Increase nutrient density, not portion size: Larger portions can be intimidating. Focus on filling your loved one's plate with nutrient-dense foods rather than a higher volume of food.

  5. Make the food bite-sized or even skip the utensils: Switching to sandwiches and other finger foods can help people retain their ability to feed themselves longer.

  6. Consider using an appetite stimulant: Some seniors have succeeded with prescription appetite stimulants. Talk to your loved one's doctor about this. 

  7. Encourage social meals: Checking out the meal options at senior centers, temples/churches, and community centers, as well as meal “dates” with friends, family, or caregivers, may add significant benefits.

  8. Set a regular eating schedule:  Our bodies tend to thrive off regularity, as do our hunger and thirst signals, so when we stray from our usual patterns, so does our appetite.

  9. Look into meal delivery:  Meals on Wheels are designed to meet the nutritional needs of older adults. Many offer specialized meals to accommodate dietary needs and are available at no cost.  There are also meal delivery services that provide nutritious, fully prepared meals or nutrient-packed meal kits that require little to no prep time.

  10. Consult with a dietitian or nutritionist: Speak with your loved one's healthcare provider or insurance to see if someone is in network or find a private dietitian who can review their diet and help create menus.

 

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