June 18, 2012
A variety of issues, from medications and illnesses to memory problems and physical constraints, can jeopardize a senior's ability to maintain a balanced diet. Seniors may find grocery shopping difficult, feel uncomfortable in the kitchen or lack the skills necessary to maintain a well-balanced diet. Caregivers often want to help, but may not have the time or ability to assist with daily meal planning. Factor in fixed incomes and a shaky economy, and it's easy to see why achieving a healthy meal plan can be a pressure cooker of stress for seniors and caregivers alike.
If you see warning signs that an older adult client is not eating properly, here are five steps you can take to set your client on a path toward healthier eating.
- Discuss your concerns with the senior and a family caregiver.
Describe what changes you think the senior can make to improve the situation. As always, the goal with involving the family member is to support the senior in maintaining independence, not to usurp their independence.
- Suggest the senior visit his or her primary care physician.
If you suspect medications or illnesses are to blame, encourage the senior to create a list of his or her current medications, recent illnesses experienced, and the signals of poor nutrition that you've discussed together, to help a primary care physician best assess the situation. From there, nutritional supplements or a referral to a nutritionist or dietician may be the best course of action.
- If appropriate, suggest a visit to the dentist.
Dental problems such as ill-fitting dentures, toothaches or jaw pain can keep an elderly adult from eating properly. The dentist will be able to uncover any potential problems and provide a solution to help the senior eat healthy foods comfortably again.
- Suggest companionship care.
For seniors who live alone, lack of mealtime companionship is one of the biggest obstacles to good nutrition. According to research conducted by the Home Instead Senior Care network, 59 percent of seniors say they eat more nutritiously when family and friends are around. So whether it's family members, friends, or a professional caregiver, any type of company during mealtimes can go a long way toward helping a senior eat healthier.
- Educate and support your client.
Due to changing life circumstances, physical changes, and other factors influencing their eating habits, seniors may have to think differently about how they eat. Share with them these tips for a successful trip to the grocery store and the following nutritional guidelines:
- Reduce sodium (salt)
- Monitor fat intake
- Consume more calcium and vitamin D
- Eat more fiber
- Cut back on sugar and dry foods
- Monitor vitamins and minerals
- Increase water intake
- Exercise regularly
To learn more about steps you can take to help older adults develop better nutrition and healthy eating habits, watch a recap of the Senior Nutrition and Mealtime Professional Caregiver Webinar.
You can also download the Cooking Under Pressure – Great Nutrition Tips and Recipes for Seniors guide for your senior clients and their families, or visit www.foodsforseniors.com for additional resources.
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