Keeping Up Good Nutrition in Those Your Care For
Good nutrition is important for any lifestage, and this is no different for seniors. A healthy diet can feed the mind, the body and the soul with benefits including resistance to various diseases and illnesses, increased mental acuity, easier management of chronic health issues, an increase in energy and faster recuperation times when unwell. A healthy diet at any age can also improve our mood.
Many seniors, however, do not enjoy a healthy and balanced diet - and for a number of reasons. Those who live alone may well find it too difficult or too tiring to prepare a nutritious and balanced meal for themselves, while the standard of food in care homes varies greatly from location to location. Different people have different palates, and so a meal that may be both nutritious and delicious for one person may not suit another. Others may need assistance at mealtimes, and so either choose to eat very little or are not singled out as a case where extra attention is needed, leading to malnutrition. Others may have a low fluid intake - maybe due to forgetting to drink, maybe due to worries of incontinence or a number of other reasons - leading to dehydration.
In later life, communication difficulties and mental health issues such as dementia and Alzheimer's can also play their part when it comes to malnutrition, making it harder to establish a senior's likes and dislikes when it comes to food, and making communication about nutrition more difficult.
Whether in a care home or living independently, there is a wide range of foods and drinks that should be readily available to seniors to keep their health in tip top condition. Daily calorie intake requirements for those over 50 range from 1600 to 200 per day for women and from 2000 to 2800 for men (depending on their level of activity) - but, of course, it is not just calorie counting that is important for a balanced diet.
It may sounds obvious, but water is one of the key elements that can be lacking in the diets of seniors. The Food Standards Agency recommendation is to drink between six and eight glasses of water (or alternative fluids) each day - and education on the importance of good hydration cannot be underestimated.
Some seniors may be reluctant to drink as much as they should because of the fear of incontinence, but hydration can be provided in other ways. By choosing foods with a high water content (soups, fruits, vegetables and milky cereal, for example), the issue of dehydration can be resolved.
Certain vitamins from foods are more key to seniors than for other lifestages. As you age, your stomach produces less and less gastric acid, making it more difficult for Vitamin B12 to be absorbed - and this vitamin is important for blood and nerve health. Fortified cereals, mackerel, beef and eggs are all good sources of B12, and should be promoted where possible. This slowing of our digestive systems also affects the processing of vitamin B6 and folic acid - an increased intake of fibre should help.
As we age, we also find it harder to synthesise vitamin D, which is vital for absorbing calcium. Fortified milk, egg yolks and fatty fish are all great sources of vitamin D, and should be used as part of a balanced diet for seniors.
An adequate level of calcium is needed in the diet for good bone health, with fractures and osteoporosis becoming more and more likely as we get older. Cheese, yoghurt and milk are all great sources of calcium - but if dairy is too hard to digest, make alternative sources of calcium such as tofu, almonds, kale and broccoli available.
Ageing has all sorts of effects on the body, which affect our dietary needs. Everyone is different, however, so when it comes to the nutrition of seniors, be sure to listen to their individual needs. And where health ailments may affect the type of diet a senior should adhere to, you’ll need to assist them in changing the balance in their everyday meals e.g. where a senior may be undergoing cancer treatment, increasing their fibre intake will assist during their treatment from a nutritional perspective.