March is National Nutrition Month!
Better nutrition can mean better health for seniors.
If your older loved one's nutrition habits aren't supporting good health, it might be time to sit down over a good meal and bring up the topic. And when seniors need help getting back on the nutritional track, a trained home health aide can help.
Researchers have developed a modified food pyramid for seniors. Click on the pyramid to learn more.
While good nutrition is important for people of every age, the special dietary needs of older adults make healthy eating more important than ever. Poor nutrition can cause confusion, undesirable weight gain or loss, and can worsen heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and a host of other health conditions.
If you are concerned about the eating habits of an older loved one, this may be the time to have a conversation about his or her dietary choices. Discuss whether your loved one is:
Eating a well-balanced diet. A nutritious diet provides sufficient vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fat—a good balance of foods from all the food groups. The best way to get the nutrients we need is to eat a variety of foods every day.
Maintaining a healthy weight. As we grow older, changes occur in the way our bodies use food. Our metabolism slows down and our activity level often decreases, which means most of us need fewer calories to stay at a healthy weight. But the need for nutrients remains the same—so we need to "eat smart" and avoid junk foods that have many calories but few nutrients. Losing too much weight is also a red flag that a senior needs help with nutrition needs.
Limiting fat and cholesterol. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat—and yes, even cholesterol—to stay healthy. But high fat/high-cholesterol diets are linked with a greater chance of heart disease, stroke and other disorders. And easy-to-prepare meals and junk foods are notoriously high in both.
Watching sodium intake. We all need some sodium (salt) in our diets, but the salt that naturally occurs in food is usually enough. Most Americans consume too much salt, leading to an increase in high blood pressure, kidney disease, and heart problems.
Getting enough calcium. Calcium is necessary for good nerve function and helps prevent osteoporosis. Dairy products and foods such as broccoli and kale are good sources of calcium.
Home Care Supports Senior Nutrition
Older adults can experience a dangerous cycle: health problems lead to loss of appetite, difficulty eating, and difficulty preparing nourishing meals, all of which then make health problems even worse. If you suspect this is happening to your loved one, encourage him or her to seek help. Talk with the person's healthcare provider. Consult with a dietitian or nutritionist who is knowledgeable about the nutritional needs of older adults. And consider how home care can help. For many elders and families, the presence of a home health aide provides supports senior nutrition in several important ways:
Meal Planning and Preparation. A professional home health aide will work with family and healthcare professionals to plan meals according to your loved one's specific needs. Then, the caregiver will grocery shop (with your loved one, if he or she enjoys the outing), prepare delicious meals and healthy snacks—and even clean up afterwards.
Ensuring Compliance with Special Diets. If your loved one's healthcare provider has prescribed dietary restrictions for diabetes, heart disease or other health conditions, the home health aide can help assure that the menu meets those needs. This might include low-sodium, low-sugar, lactose-free, or high-fiber choices.
Assistance with Eating. Home health aides can provide eating assistance for clients who have Parkinson's disease, stroke or other physical limitations that make it difficult to eat unattended. Preparing easy-to-swallow but appetizing foods help tempt the client's appetite.
Managing Nutritional Supplements and Vitamins. If your loved one's healthcare provider has suggested vitamins, minerals or nutritional supplements (such as Ensure), it's important that your loved one takes those as recommended—at the right time, and the right amount. Some vitamins can actually be toxic in large quantities.
Managing Other Medications. A home health aide can provide medication reminders and pick up prescriptions. And did you know that some medications may change the way our bodies process food, block the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, or decrease the appetite? The caregiver will report any of these side effects.
Encourage Socialization and Physical Activity. Seniors who are lonely and inactive often experience appetite loss. Others may overeat out of boredom. A home health aide can help your loved one participate in favorite activities, go for a walk or the local Senior Center, go shopping, or whatever activities he or she enjoys.
Is your loved one reluctant to accept assistance? Right at Home offers a comprehensive, no-obligation senior care evaluation to accurately assess whether senior home care services can make a difference in your loved one's quality of life.
Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.