An interest in food and drink is part of a healthy lifestyle for elderly people, yet an incredible 1 in 3 older people admitted to hospital or a care home are suffering from malnutrition. There are lots of reasons for that, including a reduced ability to absorb nutrients (sometimes caused by medication), difficulty chewing and swallowing (often because of dentures) and depression (making it harder to motivate oneself to cook and eat). It makes it all the more important for us to encourage correct nutrition for elderly people.
It is important that you check your elderly parents food diet regularly to ensure they are getting enough nutrients. Appetites and tastes change as we get older but the Eatwell plate is a useful indication of what our diet should be made up of, in what proportions. Check out the picture below to help you understand more about nutrition for elderly people.
Gaining A Better Nutritional Diet
To ensure that your elderly parent gains a better nutritional diet ensure that they are having the correct nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and certain fats in food that serve as the body’s energy sources. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, thus slowing the rate of calcium loss from bones. A key source of Vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, though it is important obtain these vitamins through your food diet too. Foods which are rich in nutrients are oily fish, eggs and selected fortified cereals.
No matter what age we are the body needs a diet made up of lots of healthy and nutritious foods in order to function correctly. The basic components of any diet should include a combination of protein (from meat, fish and eggs), five portions of fruit and veg per day and carbohydrates (from brown rice, potatoes, cereals, wholewheat pasta and couscous).
How do you encourage older people to have better nutrition?
- Find out what their favourite foods are, if they are healthy foods like fruit and veg try and incorporate them more in to their new diet.
- Check the fridge if you can and be there at some meal times to see what is being eaten. Does your parent or friend need encouragement to make some changes to their diet?
- Are they still able to cook? It may be that they need some encouragement, or that they are no longer physically able to prepare meals. You may need to look at ordering prepared meals for them, perhaps from one of the specialist companies, such as Cook or Wiltshire Farm Foods.
- Make sure they are eating regularly: small meals several times a day.
- Try and plan the week’s meals with them and take them shopping if you can to encourage an interest in food – or order online if that is impossible.
- Make sure they are able to eat. Do their dentures fit properly? Are they having difficulty swallowing? You may need to arrange a visit to the dentist or doctor.
There are many reasons why older people can become dehydrated. As people get older their feeling of thirst can lessen which can lead to them not drinking enough. 25% of the elderly suffer mild chronic dehydration. This can result in confusion, urinary tract infections, headaches, irritability and greater risk of pressure sores. As people become less mobile, they may find it difficult to get up to get themselves a drink.
Additionally, fear of incontinence may also cause them to drink less. The minimum most people should drink is 8 – 10 glasses of water per day, and yet most older people are drinking a fraction of that – and really putting their health at risk.
How can you help them drink enough?
- Some people don’t like water as they find it bland and without taste. It’s fine to drink squash or watered down fruit juice – anything that makes drinking water more enjoyable.
- Elderly people may need to be reminded, encouraged and even convinced to drink more. “I’ve got some cool refreshing water for you” is often more enticing than “Do you want something to drink?”
- Try making their drinks look more appealing by adding sliced fruit, they’re more likely to say yes to a drink if it looks nicer than a usual glass of water.
- Water-based drinks are best served fresh and cool. Perhaps you can leave a jug with lots of ice cubes which will melt over time, or encourage them to fill one at the beginning of the day, and again after lunch.
- If they’re less mobile, you could leave a flask of coffee or soup within reach of where they are sitting.
- Elderly people often worry about increased toilet visits in the night, so suggest they avoid late evening drinks. Encourage water consumption from when people wake in the morning.
- Elderly people can lose their thirst response as well as their taste sensation. Never take it for granted that they will know when they need to drink.
The consequences of not eating or drinking enough can be dire, read this sad tale to find out more. But, its not just about food and drink, read more here about keeping elderly parents active and healthy.
If you have advice for others on how to help elderly people keep hydrated, or if you want to see what others are talking about, join the conversation in Age Space Forum. We have some advice about helping an elderly person to keep cooking in Carry on in the kitchen.