However, just as it was important to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet growing up, it remains crucial as we age. By eating healthy, we ensure that our bodies receive the proper nutrients required to maintain bone health, remain agile, nourish our brains, and just enjoy life!
Proper nutrition becomes about how to eat – and choose to eat – healthily, especially when we have our independence and can easily choose to not eat well. It’s about ensuring the right choices, along with the right options are readily available.
Potential Health Issues Due to Improper Nutrition
If you are caring for an older relative who lives on their own, it can be difficult to monitor their eating habits, ensuring that they get the nutrients, calcium, fiber, and vitamins they truly need. Before we delve into how you can help ensure that they are living a healthy lifestyle that supports their independence and enjoyment of life, it’s important that we address a few potential health issues that may arise should they not receive this nutrition.
- Your loved one is eating plenty, but not receiving the proper nutrition
This is something that we at Saige have seen too often. While our clients are actually eating three meals a day, it’s often not the “right” kinds of food that will help them sustain a healthy and agile lifestyle. Rather, we often see what we call the “Tea & Toast” diet or something similar to these lines. The diet goes like this: Your loved one finds something they like that’s easy to make and digest – such as tea and toast – but has no nutritional value whatsoever. While this may fill them up and provide calories, this, unfortunately, leads to your loved one not receiving enough nutrients to allow the brain to function properly, support proper muscle development and exercise, lowering their mobility and energy levels. Not receiving proper nutrition can also have an impact on overall gut health and negatively impact their mood.
- Your loved one has a noticeable reduction in their appetite due to medication
There could be any number of reasons as to why there is a reduced appetite with your loved one as they age, however, we have often noticed that if there is a rapid change in their appetite, that new medication can be a key cause. For instance, some medications can be quite harsh on the digestive system, often causing an upset stomach. Therefore, people will simply avoid eating to avoid an upset stomach. Not only that, but some medications can change an individual’s taste buds, removing the joy of eating that they once had. Other times, medications can change someone’s mood, simply seeing them lose interest in food. If your loved one has demonstrated any of these symptoms, reach out and have a qualified professional, such as a Saige Client Care Manager, assess the potential reasons for the change in their diet. From there, we recommend speaking with your doctor about other solutions. Often there are many other medications that will do the same thing as another, but with different side effects. It’s important to know what other options your loved one has access to and if the side effects of one medication outweigh its benefits.
- Your loved one has lost the social aspect of food they once enjoyed
Your loved one may suddenly find themselves living alone for one reason or another – partner has passed away, partner has had to move to a care facility, etc. – and simply lost the social aspect that supported their healthy eating habits. Possible issues here may be that they simply have less ambition to prepare a proper meal, may not enjoy making food for only one person, or no longer enjoy eating because they now have to eat alone. What can happen is that because the social aspect, and therefore their enjoyment of food, has been removed, the individual simply loses their interest in the activity of eating. Unfortunately, this sees the individual not receiving proper nutrients, lowering their energy level, muscle development, and personality, sometimes leading to depression.
Proactive Healthy Eating Solutions
Fortunately, there are ways that you and your support team, whether that be your family or an outside caregiver, can help ensure that your loved one receives the proper nutrition and vitamins they need to encourage positive physical and mental health and enhances their overall energy levels and gut health.
- A holistic healing approach of food
Food has this amazing ability to heal or hurt the body. For instance, a lack of proper nutrients can lead to lower energy, a decrease in bone density, muscle atrophy and so forth. With this, the elderly typically tend to be at a higher risk for bone breaks, hip fractures, falls, and so much more. Without the proper nutrients, healing from a bone break, operation, or even the common cold can take longer as the immune system is weaker. By taking steps to ensure your loved one receives proper nutrition, such as preparing meal plans together with foods they enjoy, they are able to incorporate better nutrition into their everyday consumption, helping them build their health and giving them a better immune system to heal when health issues do arise.
- Social preparation of meals
This simply means preparing meals with your loved one. Remember, this can be done by you, your family, or an outside caregiver. What’s important here is that preparing meals with the individual can stimulate their brain, engage them in conversation, and even engage all the different senses, including smell, which often leads to an increase in appetite.There are a few different options as to how your loved one can be involved with meal preparation:
- Your loved one participates in making the meals
- Your loved one observes the making of the meals, but is still in the room when meals are being prepared
We recommend that to keep the social aspect of the meals there is a plan for preparation time, making of the meals together, and then freeze individual portions of the food. From there, set up a plan as to how to bring the social aspect of eating the meal into play. This can be someone simply coming in and warming the individual meal up for your loved one, sitting with them while they eat, and engaging them in conversation. Make mealtime an event during the day, giving your loved one a reason to engage and be interested in the activity of eating.
We also suggest taking your loved one to get the groceries so they can have input into the food that is being chosen. However, if this is not an option and you simply want to have the prep time together, lean on your support team to get the groceries ahead of time for you, then, when you are ready, the meals can be prepped without the hassle of going to the grocery store.
- Develop a healthy meal plan with variety
As we mentioned in the possible health issues section, many times people simply find something that’s easy to make and stick to it no matter the lack of nutrients; they enjoy their “Tea and Toast” diet and its simplicity. To ensure that your loved one is actually getting the right nutrients and vitamins, it helps to have a professional help outline what types of foods are best suited for seniors for well-balanced meals on a daily basis. What’s important to note here is to have your loved one involved in developing the plan to incorporate their interests and likes in food so they’ll actually eat what is being prepared. There is a multitude of ways to ensure that the right vitamins are being consumed in a way that your loved one enjoys. For instance, Vitamin C and Calcium are incredibly important for a healthy diet. However, your loved one may not enjoy oranges – the most commonly recognized Vitamin C food source. But, did you know that milk carries a great deal of this same vitamins? In fact, because it’s less acidic, your loved one may be more open to having a glass of milk over an orange every day, encouraging their intake of Vitamin C and Calcium. Also, when looking to develop this plan, incorporate the socialization of it, the variety of customization for your loved one, and bring back the enjoyment of food for them.
Supporting Healthy Eating
While it’s easier when growing up to simply say, “follow the Canadian Food Guide,” ensuring your loved one is getting the proper nutrients they need can be a slightly trickier task. While we mentioned a few ways above to make this task easier, there are still a lot of other options for your loved one. To help you and your loved one ensure they are receiving the proper nutrients – and that any lack of appetite is properly diagnosed – speak with a Saige senior care expert to start the process of proactively developing strategies for your loved one on their healthy eating road! Call us at 587-287-1088.