Nutrition Elderly

Uncle Ralph was always a big guy with a healthy appetite. Since Aunt Susan died, though, he’s lost a lot of weight and seems to have very little energy. His fridge is practically empty and his daughter says he’s literally living on canned soup, crackers and coffee. What can we do to help?

My neighbor, Mrs. Allen, is 87 years old and she’s been hospitalized after having a fainting spell at the mall. The doctor said she was terribly underweight. In the hospital, she wasn’t eating very well, always saying how full she was. At home, she takes laxatives to combat constipation. Frankly, she seems to be afraid to eat anything solid, assuming it will make her constipation problem worse.

Both Uncle Ralph and Mrs. Allen are typical of elderly people who are alone in their homes and lack the motivation, knowledge or confidence to fix balanced meals. Cooking for one is neither economical nor easy, and the elderly easily lose their appetites as they become lonely and depressed.

With decreased activity levels, elderly people have a slower metabolism and a lower caloric requirement. With inadequate food, though, they also lose energy and fall into a cycle of lethargy and have very little energy to do much about it.

Elderly Nutrition

A surprisingly effective solution for many elderly people lies in rebuilding their social lives. Clubs for older citizens with common interests, for example, do much to revive interest in socializing. Restaurants, churches, senior centers, and community events are great venues for stimulating both interests and appetites.

For the homebound, investigate the delivery of hot meals by social agencies. Experienced nutritionists design meals for variety, nutrition, appeal and quantities tailored to senior appetites. One individual may need a diet for lowering cholesterol, while another may require extra fiber for regularity.

Some people who’ve been dieting all their lives find it difficult to change from a low fat diet to richer fare. Indeed, the sudden addition of fat for weight gain isn’t recommended. It’s actually better to consider nutritional supplements to boost health immediately and hope to add beneficial foods gradually.

Cooking for the Elderly

If you cook for an elderly person in your home, you don’t have to fix special meals. Continue to prepare your family’s favorite foods, but adjust as needed. For example, if your mother has to maintain a diet for lowering cholesterol, you can fix low fat main dishes such as grilled fish and chicken with fruit for dessert instead of cakes and pies. A low fat diet will benefit all family members, particularly if you substitute healthy foods.

If your elderly dad suffers from hypertension, hide the saltshaker and don’t add extra salt to food while cooking. Everyone will get used to less salt in no time.

Let your elderly parents help you fix meals. Walking around the kitchen and setting the table is likely to boost their metabolism and their appetite. Unless they’re confined to bed, you shouldn’t treat them as invalids.

Nutrition Hints for Quality Living

If you have concerns about elderly nutrition, start by considering quality of life issues. Work with a physician and registered dietician or nutritionist who can design a food plan consistent with the patient’s medical needs, medications and, most important, food likes and dislikes. Keep these points in mind as you prepare meals, buy groceries, or stop by with an occasional food treat:

  • Don’t try to change people in their 70s and 80s. Give them more choices, appeal to their tastes, and show them how their quality of life will improve.
  • If elderly people need to control diabetes, lose weight, or follow a diet for lowering cholesterol, don’t overreact if they’re “cheating.” They have a right to make lousy decisions once in a while.
  • Your healthy low fat diet doesn’t give you the right to preach. Avoid using guilt to control others.
  • Keep it simple. Suggest a walk around the block, a visit to the mall or a stroll in the garden. Exercise will boost your loved one’s metabolism and is likely to aid digestion too.