Seniors have special needs when it comes to their diet and even how and when they should eat. These tips will help ensure optimal nutrition and safety at mealtime for you or your loved one.
Consume More Liquids
As we age, our sense of thirst lessens and dehydration is a common cause of hospitalizations among older Americans. Seniors need to drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if they don’t feel thirsty. The daily goal should be at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, although this can vary depending on activity levels, heat, etc. Fat-free milk or a 50-50 juice and water blend can also be substituted for water.
Variety is the Spice of Life (Or At Least Dining)
At all ages, we need to eat a variety of foods to ensure we’re getting all the nutrients we need, but this is especially true for seniors. While adults over the age of 60 may need slightly fewer calories and food-bulk than younger adults, they need just as many nutrients, if not more, because the ability to absorb nutrients decreases as we age. Specifically, physicians recommend that older adults increase their intake of calcium, as well as vitamin B12 and folic acid.
Seniors may also need to throttle back on their usage of salt. Many seniors compensate for a declining sense of taste by adding progressively more table salt to season their food. But this can aggravate high blood pressure and other health conditions. Instead, try seasoning with various herbs, spices, and low-sodium marinades or sauces to punch up the flavor without the extra sodium.
The Truth Behind the Early Bird Special
It becomes harder to digest food with age due to decreases in digestive enzymes. Some medications also cause digestion problems or affect appetite, and many seniors suffer from constipation. In response, some seniors eat dinner earlier to avoid nighttime indigestion. Others may eat a big lunch and skip dinner. Many avoid eating or drinking close to bedtime because they’re worried about falling if they have to get up to go to the bathroom. People suffering from memory loss may experience the agitation and confusion in the early evening known as “sundowning,” so caregivers may opt to have them eat dinner earlier when they are calmer.
Watch Your Waistline
Changes in eating habits along with decreased activity levels as we age, can lead to weight gain with its associated impacts on heart health and mobility. Read labels on prepared or packaged food. Pay attention to food selections and portion sizes, and try to follow daily dietary recommendations for adults over the age of 60. At the other end of the spectrum, loss of appetite is also quite common amongst seniors. This can be due to a decreased sense of taste, social isolation, or medications and medical conditions, and can lead to malnourishment or conditions related to undernourishment.
The carefully designed meals in senior dining programs, such as those at Senior Living Management communities, can help because they are both tempting and nutritionally balanced keeping unhealthy weight gain or loss at bay. The National Council on Aging also provides helpful guidelines on senior nutrition that older adults or their caregivers can follow. Ensuring seniors don’t eat alone is another strategy to help monitor their food intake and encourage a well-balanced diet.
Seniors can be at increased risk of contracting foodborne illnesses, so proper food handling and preparation is especially important. Seniors should generally avoid consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, fish, and shellfish. For seniors who have dentures or difficulty chewing or swallowing, ensure food is cut into smaller pieces or provide soft-textured foods to aid eating and digestion, and minimize the possibility of choking.
Beware of Dangerous Food-Drug Interactions
Be alert to possibly harmful interactions between foods and the prescription medications that many seniors take. The effectiveness of blood thinning medications such as Warfarin can be diminished by foods rich in Vitamin K such as dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, and spinach. The negative side effects of cholesterol-lowering statins can be increased by grapefruit. There are many other possible interactions, so it is important that seniors and their caregivers ask their doctor about this whenever a new medicine is prescribed, and then avoid potentially harmful foods.
Food is one of life’s great pleasures, and an important part of overall health and wellbeing for older adults. For more advice on senior nutrition and lifestyles, visit our Senior Living Management blog.