Nutrition and the Elderly: Challenges to Eating Well

The eating habits of Americans have changed drastically over the past 50 years. Increasingly busy lifestyles coupled with widespread availability of fast and processed food presents challenges for people of all ages. However, as individuals age, there are several new challenges to a nutritional diet.

  • Isolation. For many aging individuals, mealtime was once a meaningful social activity. Families gathered around the table to eat and enjoy time together; friends chatted over a sandwich at lunch, catching up on the neighborhood news. As peers pass away or move on to other living arrangements and as the younger generations become busier and more distant, the older generation may find themselves eating alone. They may feel mealtime has become pointless, and turn to unhealthy items to satisfy hunger rather than take the time to choose healthy selections.
  • Loss of ability. There are several factors of concern in this area. Aging hands often find it difficult to steadily handle a knife, therefore preparing fresh vegetables ceases to be an option. As dexterity loss makes preparing meals take longer, elderly persons often find it difficult to stand for the long periods of time required. Failing eyesight makes it more difficult to read labels, recipes or instructions. Safety may even become an issue. As a result, many opt for processed foods.
  • Loss of memory. Everyone has forgotten to take a dish out of the oven or has had to revisit a recipe a few times to look over instructions. However, memory loss can become dangerous when a person forgets to turn off appliances or leaves items on the stove. Memory loss can even extend to “forgetting to eat or drink,” which can have a devastating effect.
  • Lack of knowledge. Dietary guidelines have changed over the past few decades. For example, sugar is now a well-known culprit in many diseases and health issues, and is advised to be consumed in great moderation. Eggs, once placed on the list of dangerous foods, are now recognized as healthy in the right amounts. Seniors may not be aware of such changes, so it’s up to caregivers to provide appropriate scientific knowledge.
  • Mood. As individuals age, varying levels of depression can become an issue. Aging individuals may find themselves not caring about their diets or their health. They may feel they deserve to eat whatever they want or not care about the consequences. It can be helpful to educate them about the immediate benefits of eating well, such as increased energy levels or decreased pain. If the individual continues to make conscious poor choices because they’ve given up, it may be time to seek help. It is important to note that, while common, persistent symptoms of depression should be addressed by a medical professional.

While aging individuals face unique challenges to maintaining a healthy diet, it is possible to overcome these challenges. We look forward to providing solutions in future blogs.

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