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Making Sure You (or Your Elderly Loved Ones) Are Getting Good Nutrition

The nutritional needs of older people are just as important—in some cases more so—as the nutritional needs of other segments of the population. But ironically, as you age, it’s often more difficult to get the nutrients you need.

You may or may not be in this position yourself, but it’s also likely that there’s an older person in your life who may not be meeting important nutritional needs.

Why are the elderly more at risk?
There are several reasons why it becomes harder for older people to get the nutrients they need:

  • Loneliness. Eating is a social activity for many people. When the social networks aren’t there any longer, some people tend to let food slip by the wayside. Many older people admit that they skip at least one meal per day.
  • Depression. Depression is not uncommon in older people, and this can lead to a lack of interest in eating.
  • Missed signs of malnutrition. Weight loss, lightheadedness, lethargy and loss of appetite are common signs of malnutrition, but family members and sometimes even healthcare providers misinterpret these symptoms as signs of illness.
  • A decrease in sense of smell. This can make food less appetizing.
  • Limited budget. Often, food is sacrificed when money is tight.
  • Medications that decrease appetite.
  • A natural decrease in appetite. Many older people do become less interested in food even if they’re not depressed or lonely.
  • Poor absorption of nutrients.

Strategies for encouraging healthy eating in your older loved one

Here are some things you can do to make sure the older people in your life are getting the food they need:

  • Make sure they’re getting fruits and vegetables every day. At least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is a good rule of thumb. Ask them if they’re getting these in their diet. If they’re not, talk with them about ways to do so, such as adding fruit to cereal, having salad with meals, etc.
  • Make sure they’re getting enough calcium. After age 50, people should get 3 servings of calcium, or about 1,200 milligrams per day. Milk, yogurt, buttermilk and cheese are good sources. If you have trouble digesting lactose, you can try lactose-reduced milk or calcium-fortified cereals, orange juice and breads.
  • Consider smaller, more frequent meals. This strategy can work well for people whose appetites are no longer what they used to be.
  • Try new recipes. This can make food more interesting.
  • Arrange to eat with other people regularly. Maybe different family members can pick a night each week to have a meal with their older loved one.

Good nutrition improves quality of life

When your body is well fed, you think more clearly, you have more energy and your system fights illness more effectively. It might take a little more effort, but it’s worth it if it will have such a positive effect on your quality of life.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Institute on Aging;; FDA Consumer; Post-graduate Medicine, November 1997; Virginia Cooperative Extension, As You Age…Eat More Calcium Rich Foods, January 2002.

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