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Nutrition and Companionship: A Recipe for Healthy Aging (CA)

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“Ann,” a family caregiver, was worried about her 85-year-old mom “Madge.” A former connoisseur of fine dining, Madge, a widow, had lost interest in eating since her husband died. Ann knew the importance of senior nutrition and proper diet since her mom recently had been diagnosed with diabetes. But cooking had become more difficult because of the arthritis in her mother’s hands and Madge was starting to show signs of dementia, which was impacting her ability to remember to cook and eat.

Ann’s story illustrates a scenario that many family caregivers face. Nutritional needs of seniors do often change as they age. What’s more, the conditions of aging such as medical illnesses and mobility issues could make fulfilling the proper nutritional needs more difficult. Social isolation and lack of companionship might further jeopardize an older adult’s health and well-being.

According to the professionals, six key nutrients – calcium, Vitamins D and B12, sodium, fiber and water – are important to successful aging for any older adult.

However, nutrition may be even more important to seniors who are facing these common medical conditions:

  •  Diabetes – In Canada, 48% of people with diabetes are over 65 years of age.   Older adults with diabetes or prediabetes may be advised to follow a special low-carb or diabetic diet to better control their blood sugar levels. It’s important that seniors with diabetes closely follow a doctor’s orders. Observing and recording a loved one’s food intake often is an important part of managing this disease.
  • Arthritis – Since mobility often is a problem for those with arthritis, preparing meals could be a challenge, as Ann found with her mother. In addition, your senior’s doctor could recommend an anti-inflammatory diet. By conservative estimates, about 54 million adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, the most of which is osteoarthritis, which affects approximately 10 percent of Canadians.
  • Heart disease – Heart disease can lead to the potentially serious conditions of heart attack and congestive heart failure. Diet is important to preventing these conditions and maintaining their health if older adults already have been diagnosed with these diseases. The experts say that a reduced salt diet may be a part of managing swelling in the ankles and legs, and keeping weight down in seniors with conditions like congestive heart failure.
  • Dementia – Dementia conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease may present a host of challenges for an older adult, from safety issues including the inability to remember to turn off the stove to forgetting to eat altogether. A senior with dementia likely will need additional help at home to manage and ensure a healthy diet and proper nutrition. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, in general, a healthy diet is one that is high in fiber and low-fat animal proteins. Difficulty swallowing can be part of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease so a special diet may be required to manage these issues as well.

Aside from medical conditions, these five reasons also could impact an older adult’s ability to get the proper nutrition:

1. Problems chewing
2. Medications that interfere with sense of taste
3. Depression
4. Inability to cook
5. Loneliness due to eating alone

The impact of senior loneliness is not to be underestimated. Research by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead® network,  shows lack of companionship is the biggest mealtime challenge for seniors. Dining alone can magnify loneliness and feelings of depression, which in turn can suppress appetite and lead to poor eating.

That was the case with Madge, Ann’s mother. When the family hired Home Instead to come into the home to assist, Madge still wasn’t eating. Then the CAREGiverSM got to know the family and found out Madge had loved to eat out in earlier years. So, the CAREGiver made dinner at home an event complete with special touches like a table cloth. She dusted off the fine china, added candles, and really celebrated mealtime with music and companionship.

Anyone can drop off a meal, but engaging seniors while they eat, even sitting down with a cup of tea, could make such a difference in his or her social life. Spending mealtime with your loved one as often as possible or even telephoning around the lunch or dinner hour might make an important impact on his or her health.

Understanding the nutritional, medical and emotional needs of an older adult can help a family caregiver ensure a loved one is getting the proper diet.

And, for more information, check out the resources, senior recipes and meal plans at Sunday Dinner Pledge.

Last revised: March 7, 2019

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