Scores of elderly Americans that live alone don’t get the daily nutrition they need. Many lack the motivation to cook a healthy meal for one person, and others deal with eating problems like confusion, diminished physical strength, swallowing difficulties, and chewing discomfort.
When serving as a caregiver for a senior loved one with dietary deficiencies, it can be challenging to meet their nutritional needs as they continue aging in place at home. Starting with what a balanced diet looks like, there are several reliable ways to supply a senior with the nutritious foods they need.
The Importance of a Balanced Diet
According to WebMD, food provides fuel and medicine for a senior’s body. When a senior is dealing with a long-term illness, medical condition, or recovering from surgery, a balanced diet is even more important for healing and repairs. And, stronger immune systems to ward off illnesses begin with nutritious foods. Shared meals between loved ones also promotes emotional bonding, as good food at any age is one of life’s little pleasures.
What a Healthy Diet Looks Like
A senior’s body needs daily minimums of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, but most don’t get those. As a result, their health suffers, which can jeopardize their ability to continue living independently at home. Common dietary requirements that are not met include these:
These include B6, B12, and folate, also called “folic acid”. All are found in most cereals that contain added vitamins, as well as in:
- Vitamin B6: Whole grains and organ meats, like liver
- Vitamin B12: Lean meats including poultry and some fish
- Folic acid: Dark green vegetables and beans
Many seniors suffer from bone density loss, and bone-strengthening calcium can be obtained in low-fat dairy products and dark green, leafy vegetables.
Unsaturated fats are necessary for new cell production. However, restrict foods containing saturated fats, and avoid those with trans fats whenever possible, as they cause heart and blood pressure problems.
A lot of fiber is good for a senior’s heart, helps prevent diabetes, and reduces constipation. Foods high in fiber include most beans, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Low potassium can raise a senior’s blood pressure and cause heart irregularities. In addition to potatoes and yogurt, fresh fruits like bananas, oranges, apricots and grapefruit are good sources, along with dried fruits like raisins, dates and prunes.
The easiest way to get Vitamin D is for a senior to be exposed to sunlight, or to drink some Vitamin D-enriched skim or 2% milk. There are also other foods with Vitamin D added.
Getting a Senior to Eat Right
Once you’ve determined your senior’s dietary needs, use these tips to get them to eat healthier:
- Create a balanced plate. Fill their plate with half veggies and fruits, and the other half with whole grains and sources of lean protein like beans, fish or poultry.
- Include bright colors. A plate that’s full of bright colors is not only more appetizing, it probably means that you also got the nutritional balance right.
- Stick to the basics. Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, beans, whole grains, and some dairy products, along with eggs, certain nuts and poultry selections, will give your senior the nutrition they need.
- Variety is the spice of life. While serving 3 “squares” a day, make it interesting by spicing up their healthy meals with variety.
- For chewing and swallowing issues. From the selections listed above, creatively serve softer versions, like mashed potatoes, low-fat cottage cheese or applesauce, or make a fruit, yogurt and veggie shake. Cut up meat and other food items into tiny pieces.
- If they are confused or stressed. Many seniors feel confused or stressed, and dementia can exacerbate those feelings. To offset those during mealtime, join them while only setting the table with essential serving items, throw in some sweets occasionally, and just give them 2 choices per meal served up on a small plate.
- Keep them hydrated. Many seniors don’t feel dehydrated, as that sense diminishes with age. Help them stay hydrated by setting out water throughout the day, serving them clear broth or low-fat milk, and by avoiding beverages with high sugar or salt content.
Meeting the Nutritional Needs of At-Home Seniors
Ensuring that an at-home senior eats well can be difficult. At First In Care, we understand the unique dietary requirements that seniors have, and provide expert, compassionate home health care that addresses those nutritional needs. In addition to grocery shopping, nutrition education, meal preparation and cleanup, our highly-trained aids deliver other services like personal hygiene, light housekeeping, companionship and transportation. From a few hours per week, to 24-hour care, we provide seniors with the independence, dignity and self-esteem they deserve, while restoring your peace-of-mind. To learn how First In Care meets the nutritional needs of seniors, or more about our family-trusted, senior home health care services in the Manatee County, FL, area, visit: www.firstincare.com now.