Nutritional Challenges for the ElderlyMany older adults have very little knowledge about healthy eating. Even when they know what foods will make them healthy, they may not always eat them. There are many reasons for this. Here are a few of the most common reasons.
Loneliness and isolation
The elderly may be lonely. Their children may live far away. They may be sad about the death of a spouse or other loved one. It is important to help older adults stay in contact with friends and family as much as possible. In fact, research shows that following the death of their husbands, women’s appetites decrease as does their enjoyment of meals. Older adults often say that it is too much bother to cook for just themselves.
Loneliness can still exist even if the elderly live with family members or in long-term care settings. Elderly persons who live with adult children may be alone all day while these children are at work. Persons who live in group homes or long-term care settings may feel isolated from those they love and resent having to leave their own homes to live with strangers.
Poor fluid intake
Water is needed to help control body temperature, maintain skin integrity, and help bowel and bladder functioning. Older adults may not feel thirsty even when their bodies need water. Some elderly adults complain that they get too “full” when they drink a lot of fluid. Some are afraid of becoming incontinent if they drink too much. It may help if older adults drink small frequent amounts throughout the day and not drink fluids after their evening meal. This will help them to get the fluid they need and reduce the risk of incontinence.
Transportation, money, and health problems
Some older clients may not understand which foods are healthy for them. Many have trouble getting to a grocery store. Perhaps they no longer drive and do not have access to public transportation. They may not have enough money to use public transportation or to buy proper foods. Some elderly purchase canned soups and other products because they are less expensive and easy to prepare. They may buy microwave dinners for the same reasons. However, these foods are often high in salt and other non-healthy substances.
Dietary restrictions caused by culture and religion make it more challenging for older adults to follow a healthy diet. They may not be able to find the food they need or they may not be able to afford it. In fact, limited income may cause the elderly to decrease the amount of food they eat every day.
General health problems
Older adults may have a variety of health problems. Conditions such as arthritis or stroke may make it difficult for them to shop, prepare and eat food. These problems may also make it hard to hold onto eating utensils. Chewing and swallowing may be affected. Many elderly clients are confused at times. All of these problems can interfere with their eating habits.
Many elderly adults take medicine because of chronic health problems. Drugs can cause appetite changes, decrease the taste of food, or cause nausea. It is important that older adults learn how to take their medicine so that it does not interfere with their nutrition. Some medicines should be taken on an empty stomach, while others should be taken with food. Some foods can cause bad side effects when taken with some medications. For example, grapefruit or grapefruit juice are not recommended while using some of the blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart medicines. Find out if your clients need to avoid certain foods or drink. If so, help them to do so.
Many older adults do not have the money or the interest to purchase properly fitting dentures or eyeglasses. Tooth decay as well as poorly fitting or missing dentures interfere with a person’s ability to eat. Vision problems may make it difficult to prepare and eat healthy foods.
Digestion is slower in older adults. This can cause heartburn, esophageal reflux, and gas. Elderly adults often do better eating small frequent meals instead of three large ones. And remember that when fiber is added to the diet, gas and stomach pains may occur. The elderly should add fiber slowly to the diet to avoid these problems.
Bowel and bladder function
Good nutrition is very important for proper bowel and bladder function. The large intestine (colon) moves more slowly than in younger adults. Bladder muscle may lose tone, causing incontinence. The diet must include fiber, water, and the right amounts of servings from the food groups to maintain bowel and bladder function. For example, if older adults are afraid of becoming incontinent, they may avoid drinking enough water. This can cause constipation to occur. Fiber found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods also helps to keep the bowel normal. If older adults don’t drink enough water they may not make enough urine. his can cause urinary tract infections.
Food labels are present on most prepackaged foods. They provide nutritional information so that consumers can make informed choices about the foods they buy. The list of ingredients on the label gives the contents in the order of highest amount to lowest amount. The values given on labels are for ONE serving only, not for the entire amount of food in the package. Older adults may need help to read these labels (they are sometimes written in tiny print) and to understand what they mean.