Eating is an important part of life, well beyond diet.
We use food to show sympathy when someone dies, to celebrate life and everything in between. Parents encourage their children to eat – and adult children may fear that their aging parents are not eating well enough. And that can be a cause for concern.
Malnutrition in the elderly can lead to some diseases and exacerbate others. Not eating enough can lead to weakness and dizziness, which can lead to falls or fear of movement. Inadequate nutrition can slow wound healing, cause fatigue and depression, and much more.
If you’ve noticed that an elderly person you care about isn’t eating well, or you fear that it could become a problem, there are some steps you can take to help.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the most common eating disorders in the elderly includes difficulty chewing food due to dental problems. physical problems that make it difficult to prepare or eat meals once they are ready; and changes in taste and loss of appetite.
Seattle-based registered nutritionist Ginger Hultin, spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of ChampagneNutrition, added a few more: the ability to pay for groceries; Mobility problems that can prevent people from shopping; and social isolation and depression.
“There are several things to consider,” Ms. Hultin told Medical Daily in an email. “Appetite (and thirst) can of course decrease with age. Another thing to consider is any dental or oral issues (needing dentures, proper denture fitting, etc.) that can affect chewing and swallowing. Mobility problems, even arthritis pain, can make food sourcing and preparing more difficult. Older adults also suffer from financial food insecurity [issues] and transportation, so it is important to ensure that these factors are not limiting. Finally, unfortunately, social isolation and depression are common factors that make eating sufficiently difficult. Hence, mental health should be addressed. “
How to help
Some problems are easier to solve than others. Here are some tips that can help your loved one not only eat healthier, but also have fun eating again.
Regular visits to the dentist are a must for everyone, regardless of age, but even more so as we get older.
Good oral health is critical to overall health. In a study published in the Dental Research Journal, the researchers found “a significant association between the food intake of older people and their oral health”. The authors concluded that there should be public health promotions on the importance of “functional dentition” or a mouth that enables you to chew well and eat well.
Regular dental exams allow dentists to determine if teeth need repair or extraction and adjust dentures or plates to fit better. So even better when you can find a dentist who specializes in treating the elderly.
Loss of appetite
As people get older, changes to the body can make them feel full sooner than they did when they were young, according to the NIH. Lack of physical activity could be a cause, as could some medications. It is important for the doctor to be aware of changes in appetite because if this is due to a side effect of medication, there may be other treatment options.
Loss of appetite is a tough question, said Ms. Hultin. She recommended discussing appetite problems with the care team. “Medication may need to be considered or specific meal times or feeding strategies implemented.” A consultation with a registered nutritionist and speech therapist who can assess swallowing can also help.
It is also important to consider the stage of life. “Depending on the situation, there are some end-of-life considerations as a decline in eating and drinking can be a natural part of the end of life. It is important to discuss this with a hospice team if this is the case. “
Changes in taste
We know we have to eat to survive, but enjoying what we eat plays a big role in what we eat and how well we eat. Loss of taste or smell can be a real challenge, Ms. Hultin said.
She suggested they review the medication to rule this out. “Evaluate that medications (sometimes called ‘polypharmacy’ when there are many to be taken daily) are not overwhelming or contribute to loss of appetite by discussing this with the medical team and pharmacist.” Caregivers should avoid making too much dietary changes and “definitely consider all culturally relevant foods that may be important to them”.
Experimenting with flavors can also help.
While it may be tempting to just add salt to a meal that seems boring, the use of different herbs can have a significant impact on the taste of a meal. Don’t be afraid to try new herbs and different combinations. The NIH says using lemon juice and vinegar can also improve the taste. A nutritionist may also have suggestions on how to make meals that are tastier.
How meals are prepared can also affect taste. The NIH recommends changing how it is prepared: “Food that has been cooked over tends to have less flavor. Try boiling or steaming your vegetables for a shorter amount of time and see if this creates a crunch that piques your interest. “
This problem may be more difficult to solve, but with a little creativity it may be possible to help a loved one eat healthier meals despite their physical limitations. An occupational therapist can make a home visit to redesign the kitchen for easier navigation, or provide rails or special equipment to prepare or enjoy a meal.
When shopping is difficult, grocery stores offer delivery services. You get the list, fill the shopping cart, and then deliver the food. Other services can deliver orders on a regular basis.
If food preparation is a problem, nutrition plans or aids such as meals on wheels will cover a few meals a week. If eating itself is the problem – possibly due to the tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease – those too can be resolved with special tools.
Difficulty swallowing, called dysphagia, can cause choking hazards. A speech therapist can assess the risk of suffocation and offer tips about eating or drinking, as well as the best ways to make sure someone is eating enough.
“Individualization in nutrition is key for older adults, and fulfilling their desires with the most liberalized diet possible is key,” said Ms. Hultin. “Think holistically – are finances or transport an obstacle? How is your sanity? Oral hygiene? Do your medications dull your absorption? Are they getting enough physical activity or physical or occupational therapy? There is a lot to consider with the health of older adults, but it is worth keeping them healthy and happy. “