Proper nutrition is essential to good health – particularly in older adults. Most adults over 65 have chronic illnesses that are made worse by a poor diet. One in five feels depressed – resulting in a loss of appetite – and most take medications that require good nutrition to be effective. However, most older adults were raised on calorie-rich “comfort” foods, which makes it challenging to get them interested in foods good for an older body. But it’s an important challenge to tackle – and not just as a New Year’s resolution. This guide will help your senior parents make good nutrition a way of life.
Aging bodies have special nutritional needs
Your aging parents may not realize that their sense of smell, taste and thirst decrease as they age, and so does their metabolism. Their physiology changes, and for the most part, they don’t need as much food as they did when they were younger. Tufts University created a “Food Guide Pyramid for Older Adults
” ages 70-plus. The base shows eight glasses of water; the risk of dehydration among the elderly is high, and could lead to kidney problems and constipation. The pyramid emphasizes foods rich in fiber for intestinal health, and the flag at the top suggests supplements in calcium, vitamins D and B-12. The bottom features illustrations of physical activities emphasizing the need for daily exercise.
How you can help your aging parents
Because the transition to a healthier diet could be challenging for your parents, you may need to provide some assistance. Here’s how:
- Bring them cases of small water bottles or get them to sign up for a water delivery service. Their generation isn’t one to waste, so they will be more inclined to drink it.
- Get them in the habit of asking their pharmacist to identify if their medication causes dehydration, interacts adversely to specific foods or should be taken on a full stomach.
- Research your parents’ medical conditions—a great place to start is the Mayo Clinic– and let Mom and Dad know if certain foods may make matters worse. Most chronic illnesses benefit from a special diet.
- Give them “care packages” of high fiber snacks, frozen vegetables, fruits and a good multi-vitamin. And remember: go for color! Tuft University’s nutritional biochemist, Dr. Alice Lichenstein, urges older people to opt for dark green, red, orange, yellow or other brightly colored vegetables and deeply colored fruits.
- Eating alone is a leading cause of malnutrition for seniors. Organize family and friends to dine with your parents or call the Elder Care Locator at 1.800.677.1116 to find a “Home Delivered Meal” program. Also, ask them to locate and attend luncheons and make friends.
- Arthritic hands and impaired vision can make it hard to eat or prepare foods. Call Able Data at 1.800.227.0216 and ask for a catalog of eating utensils and cooking devices that are easier for your aging parents to use, or visit their website.
People are living longer today, not always because of a surgeon’s skilled hands, but because they’re taking matters into their hands. The good news is: eating well and getting an appropriate amount of exercise isn’t very difficult.
The bottom line
- Proper nutrition for seniors is essential to good health – particularly in older adults who are more likely to have chronic illnesses or suffer from depression.
- Proper nutrition and regular exercise should become a way of life – not just a method to lose weight. But many older adults need the encouragement and support of their family to make it so.
- As bodies age, their nutritional needs evolve. Plenty of water, fiber and colored fruits and vegetables are staples to a well-balanced diet. Nutritional supplements are also recommended.