Nutrition and the Elderly: Overcoming Challenges to Eating Well
Recently, we explored several challenges to eating well that are specific to the aging population. These include, but are not limited to, isolation, loss of ability, loss of memory, lack of knowledge, and apathy. There are also challenges unique to different physical conditions and illnesses, many of which we will address more thoroughly in future blogs. While the challenges to eating well are significant, we know that it is not a hopeless situation. These tips can help with overcoming the difficulties we discussed.
- Increased socialization. When mealtime always involves a “table for one,” it seems less important and less meaningful to have meals at all. Combat isolation by increasing socialization as much as possible. Community centers or religious organizations often have organized mealtimes. If possible, visit elderly family members at mealtime and dine together. Older grandchildren can make a visit on their own, bringing prepared or purchased food along.
- Assist with mealtime tasks. As an aging person begins to struggle with cooking tasks, processed food will often take the place of healthier options. In a perfect world, family members would be able to go and help prepare each meal with them. Unfortunately, that is rarely possible. However, it might be realistic to assist with shopping for healthier items that are simple to prepare; or to cook and portion out meals ahead of time, with simple heating instructions. Seek out delivery services for times when that cannot be accomplished.
- Remind and assist without nagging. If loss of memory is interfering with the ability to safely cook, it may be necessary to enlist more help or to install additional safety features in the home. An individual who forgets to eat likely needs help across many aspects of daily life. However, even then, “what’s on the menu today?” is a much kinder inquiry than “don’t forget to eat again.” Keeping the lines of communication open is important, as some people feel the need to hide their memory loss.
- Seek information together. If an aging loved one has limited knowledge about nutritional needs, talk with an expert together. Take notes. Decide what healthy foods should be increased and what “treats” should be limited and ask how that goal can be accomplished. Try not to become the enforcer, but rather be a supporter.
- Seek help when needed. We discussed apathy as a barrier to healthy eating. While it may be common and even normal in the short term, it can be a sign of depression. Talk openly about it. Don’t delay in seeking help.
Overcoming the challenges and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be difficult, but it is possible with effort and assistance. Often, family members are unable to be as involved in the situation as they would like to be. In that event, it is wise to consider obtaining in-home assistance for seniors. Having the right help can make the difference that keeps seniors living the fullest life possible in the place they wish to live.