September 2013 | Josip Kucinie
Good nutrition is crucial for any stage of life, and become even more so as we age. Our bodies are not as resilient, and there are greater demands placed on it. By the time we reach our elder years, most of us are grappling with at least a few health problems to boot. But, at this stage of life, eating well becomes a challenge on several fronts. If you are caring for an elderly loved one who has issues in the diet arena, you probably know how frustrating it can be. But, there are some things you can do to help them get the nutrition they need. It will take some experimentation, a willingness to do things differently and some patience.
Dealing with Changes in Taste
Elderly people experience changes in taste for a number of reasons. If food does not really taste good, this will naturally lessen the desire to eat. But, there are some ways you can make things seem more palatable. Foods most likely to be affected are bitter and savory items—many people love to salt them up to bring out the flavor, but this can be a dangerous practice in seniors, most of whom have high blood pressure, or other conditions where excess sodium can lead to problems, such as fluid retention. Salt is far from the only alternative for enhancing flavor—experiment with different herbs and spices. A squirt of fresh lemon juice can do wonders for vegetables.Older people tend to retain their taste of sweets most strongly, which may create a penchant for unhealthy sugary snacks. If you find your loved one leans towards sweet foods more so than others, stock up on plenty of healthy options so that they can get plenty of healthy calories. Medications may also alter taste, so you should talk to the doctor to see if this may have something to do with it, and if there is any way to combat the problem, such as switching medication or adding another one to the mix.
Surprisingly, eye problems are a common cause of nutritional challenges in the elderly. If they suffer from cataracts, or other conditions that limit their sight, it can affect their desire to eat. We all know how food looks certainly affects the appeal factor. Your loved one with impaired vision may just see a few lumps sitting on a plate, and would rather take a pass. You can work around this issue by putting together meals with colorful elements. For example, you might put together a salad full of colorful vegetables, like bright orange carrots or yellow peppers. Giving the meal a visual pop may pique interest and get her appetite revving.
Ease up on Nutritional Guidelines
Proper nutrition is clearly very important for elderly people. The idea that you should just let them eat whatever they want, so long as they are eating is not a good approach to take. But, with that being said, sometimes it may be wise to ease up, and let them eat something not as healthful if it is the only way to get some calories into them. The key is finding the balance between this approach and making sure they are eating foods that contain the nutrients they require for optimal health. This is where the experimentation comes in. You have to work on finding healthy foods that they find palatable.
Beware the Nutritional Shakes
When it comes to the elderly and eating well, nutritional shakes certainly have their place. But, you have to be careful of becoming overly reliant on them. They are good for boosting caloric intake, in addition to regular food; they are meant as snacks and supplements. They should not become a regular substitute for meals. If you find yourself in a situation where this seems to be the only way to get your loved one to consume anything, it is time to talk to the doctor.Make Changes GraduallyIf you are trying to incorporate new foods into the diet, or a newly discovered health problem calls for modifications to current eating habits, make the changes gradually. Totally forcing a new diet onto your loved one, especially if you are already dealing with eating challenges, will just make your job much harder. If she was recently diagnosed with diabetes, for example, you will almost certainly need to make changes to her current intake of carbohydrates. If she currently eats white bread on her sandwich every day, start by substituting whole wheat a couple of times a week until she gets used to it. If you want to introduce some healthier carbs for breakfast, such as oatmeal, introduce it into the diet slowly rather than completely forcing it on her every day.
Set an Example of Healthy Eating
If trying to get your loved one to switch to a healthier diet is your primary challenge, you will find it much easier to accomplish this task if you work on setting a good example. Singling your loved one out for a change in diet, while you and your family chow down on less than healthful choices, may increase resistance to change. As much as you can, make the same foods for everyone rather than preparing a different meal for your loved one.
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