The Importance of Good Nutrition for the Elderly

The importance of eating a balanced diet is well known, but is enough emphasis being placed on the worrying problem of malnutrition among the elderly?

Lead image: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz / iStock / Getty Images Plus

As we all get older, changes in our bodies and mental wellbeing can prevent us from maintaining a healthy weight and diet, and if our elderly friends and relatives don’t have the appropriate care in place, malnutrition can become a worrying problem.

But what are the issues? And how can we help ensure our loved ones get the valuable nutrition that they need?

Tony O’Flaherty, Director of Home Instead Senior Care for Wandsworth, Lambeth & Dulwich, guides us through the importance of good nutrition for the elderly…

The Impact of Physical
Changes on Nutrition

The elderly may not be able to get around or leave the house as often as they once did, meaning daily tasks like picking up groceries are a lot more difficult.

As well as aches and pains impacting mobility, various surgeries, illnesses and medical treatments can affect an individual’s taste or appetite.

If your friend or relative is suffering from a condition such as dementia, remembering to, or even being able to, prepare balanced meals and stay hydrated can be challenging.

‘As our bodies get older, they can become less effective at absorbing certain nutrients’

They may need a helping hand at the supermarket and in the kitchen to buy and eat the right, nutrient-dense foods in the appropriate amounts.

As our bodies get older, they can become less effective at absorbing certain nutrients. The British Nutrition Foundation advises that, since the elderly don’t tend to get outdoors as often, and therefore don’t get as much vitamin D from the sun, that they should regularly eat foods rich in vitamin D (such as oily fish and fortified breakfast cereals).

Oily fish has a further benefit for the elderly – the long chain omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish can help protect against heart disease, and may also help to alleviate some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, preserve eye health, prevent cognitive decline and improve immune function.

The Impact of Mental and
Social Changes on Nutrition

With longevity increasing, elderly individuals experience a great deal of bereavement and the loss over time.

The stress and emotional impact of bereavement, personal illness and the illness of loved ones can have a surprisingly negative impact on appetite and enjoyment of food.

Not only that, loneliness can be a real problem for elderly individuals who feel isolated because of their age and/or medical condition.

The rise in the number of self-checkout machines in supermarkets can also contribute to loneliness, removing the social interaction that the elderly often value at the shops.

The machines themselves, which can be frustrating for many of us, regardless of age, can also be very intimidating to older people, putting them off going to the shops at all.

Poor mental health and state of mind can have a serious knock-on effect on energy and appetite – essentially, loneliness and stress can lead to circumstances such as older people neglecting to eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated.

How to Ensure an Elderly Friend
or Relative is Eating a Balanced Diet

The best way to ensure someone is eating a healthy balanced diet is to be there in person during mealtimes, but with our busy lifestyles it can be difficult to make this happen on a regular basis, especially if you’re caring for parents and young children at the same time.

There are, however, other ways to help. Try making a shopping list for them or taking them to the shops. Plan meals together for the week ahead with plenty of interesting, nutrient-rich foods (avoid calorie-free or low-fat products unless otherwise advised by a GP).

If home cooking is not possible, assist with access to prepared meals via a home delivery service.

‘Plan meals together for the week ahead with plenty of interesting, nutrient-rich foods’

If you do have time to cook together, getting your loved one involved in the cooking process can make the process more interesting and the aromas can help to stimulate the appetite.

Think about portion sizes – if appetite is a problem, it’s better to introduce smaller meals more frequently than present a reluctant eater with a large plate of food. Finger foods are a good way to encourage people to eat.

Ensure healthy snack options are available and make sure food and drinks are easily accessible throughout the day.

Where to Turn for Help with
Nutrition for the Elderly

Home Instead Senior Care has a great guide to staying nourished in the golden years.

They have also teamed up with popular TV chef Rosemary Shrager to create a selection of nutritious recipes to support a healthy diet for older people.

Home Instead can also provide support via a CAREGiver, who can spend time with your loved one and help to make mealtimes a positive and enjoyable experience.

CAREGivers can also take mum out for lunch or help dad with his weekly shop. If someone is unable to leave the home, they can also visit at mealtimes, helping to prepare food, monitoring your loved one’s diet and noting any changes in health and wellbeing.

CAREgivers at Home Instead Senior Care are not only expertly-trained in the importance of good nutrition, they will also get to know your loved one’s preferences and dietary needs and help them to live more independently in their own home.

For more information on the care and nutritional support provided by Home Instead Senior Care Wandsworth, Lambeth & Dulwich, call 020 8871 0006 or see homeinstead.co.uk


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