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Overcoming nutritional challenges with older adults

You probably have witnessed it: An older relative who just does not eat the same way he or she once did.

As we age, our bodies undergo inevitable changes, even when we’re at our best health. Many of these changes affect how we consume, absorb and use the nutrients from food.

Without awareness of these changes, we can easily begin to experience a decrease in health because of lack of nutrients.

To stay healthy, older adults—or those caring for them—need to recognize the biological changes as well as habitual obstacles that keep them from optimal nutritional health. They need to know how to adapt their lifestyles and diets to overcome such challenges.

Biological changes that affect nutrition

The simple process of aging can affect many ways our bodies consume and use nutrients from our food. Consider the following:

●    Loss of appetite
●    Slower metabolism
●    Loss of taste and smell
●    Decreased sense of thirst
●    Pain in the teeth and gums

Additionally, seniors are more prone to health problems that interfere with their nutritional levels, including:

●    Heart problems
●    High blood pressure
●    Diabetes
●    Loss of bone density
●    Digestion issues
●    Weight gain

If these health conditions are the cause of poor nutrition, you should talk with your doctor to see how getting these issues under control can improve your overall health.

Improving nutritional intake at home

For those challenges that occur naturally as we age, it is still possible to overcome them with proper care and planning.

For loss of appetite:

●    Make mealtimes social events with friends and family. This step will give you a reason to look forward to the meal or provide a distraction to help you eat.
●    Increase physical activity.
●    Consider whether side effects from medications are causing your poor appetite.
●    If you eat only small amounts, make them count by eating nutrient-rich snacks such as nuts, fruit or whole grains.

For loss of taste and smell:

●    Experiment with spices and new flavors.

For painful chewing:

●    Change the texture and consistency of your foods. Try softer foods as well as smoothies and nutritional drinks.
●    Schedule a dental appointment. Pain could be caused by a bad tooth or poorly fitting dentures.

For slower metabolism, boost your body’s natural fuel:

●    Healthy carbohydrates—cereal, pasta, rice, bread, dairy, fruits and vegetables—give the body energy and also add fiber to combat digestive issues. Healthy carbs also work to lower cholesterol and blood sugar.
●    Proteins (eggs, poultry, lean meat, seafood, beans, nuts and dairy) help the body repair tissue, produce energy and fight off illnesses.
●    Good fats including peanut butter, oil, fish, seeds, nuts and avocados are necessary for optimal health. Try to avoid trans- or saturated fats.
●    Vitamins and minerals work best when they come from the foods we eat. However, in the case of deficiencies, taking supplements can help. Of course, you should talk to a doctor before starting new supplements.

Combating poor nutrition can be a challenge for both older adults and their caregivers. However, with awareness of the problem and creative solutions, you can start giving your body everything it needs to thrive.

By Melissa Kindall
Manager, Social Media and Digital Communications
Diakon Corporate Communications & Public Relations