Family Health Magazine - NUTRITION
Healthy Eating in Your Senior Years
What seniors and caregivers should know
Most seniors know that eating nutritious food is essential to maintaining their health and many are creative in the ways they manage to buy and prepare their meals.
Throughout their lives they have learned how to adapt. Most have known rationed food during war time. Many have lived through hard times when money was scarce. Seniors are resourceful and proud of it.
A well-balanced diet helps seniors maintain their level of health, physical fitness and social activity. The recommendations in Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating are particularly important for older people whose energy or calorie needs are often less but whose nutrient needs are not. This means the foods older people eat must be high in nutrients. There is not much room for empty-calorie foods such as sweets and alcohol.
Knowing a good diet is important to health does not mean it is easy to achieve. For many older people eating becomes less enjoyable when it is a chore to obtain and prepare nourishing food, or because it is lonely and boring to eat alone.
A group of dietitians decided to study these problems to find out more about how seniors manage food purchasing and preparation. A survey of seniors was done in the City of Edmonton asking them about ways they maintain a well-balanced diet. The dietitians expected to find many older people existing on 'tea and toast.'
Instead they found seniors who are eating healthy meals on a regular basis by using a variety of supports. They know about resources and have creative ideas about cooking, shopping and sharing meals with one another. Some of the things these seniors did may give you or a senior you care about, ideas for making nourishing and interesting meals.
Seniors purchasing food
- Family and friends help with shopping and getting food home.
- Transportation services such as mini-buses, specialty transportation services and volunteer driving services make it easier for seniors to get to stores.
- Many people budget to have food delivered, saying it is money well spent.
- Seniors budget for taxi fare to get to supermarkets where they find wider choices.
- Some stores allow people to take groceries home in a shopping cart, to be collected later.
- Neighbourhood drug stores sell bread, milk and produce so people can walk home with small purchases.
- Some supermarkets will assign a clerk to help with the shopping if they have advance notice.
- Hired grocery services will do a person's shopping and deliver groceries to the home.
Seniors preparing food
- Many seniors used prepared frozen entrees (main course items such as chicken pieces or a casserole) as the basis of their meal. The frozen entrees come from the grocery store, meal delivery services and frozen food companies that sell door-to-door.
- Seniors ate in cafeterias or restaurants when they did not feel like cooking.
- Meals-On-Wheels, food caterers and restaurants provide fresh and frozen meals for seniors.
- Home delivery can be arranged for many foods including milk, eggs, bread, fruit and vegetables.
- Home Care may be available to provide shopping and food preparation assistance.
- Several people go together to buy a large order of food (such as meat) and divide it among themselves.
- Families often prepare extra portions and freeze these for seniors to keep as a ready meal.
- Many restaurants have seniors' portions and offer discounts on meals.
- Microwave ovens and freezers are useful so people can take advantage of food services.
Seniors eating together
- Many seniors thrive on the companionship and group meal programs provided by community and church drop-in centres.
- Some retail outlets offer coffee to encourage people to visit with one another.
- Group meals such as pot luck suppers, barbecues, pancake breakfasts, and ordered-in Chinese food help people eat better.
Warning signs of poor nutrition
"Once you stop eating well, you lose your strength, and then you can't get out of the house," said a senior living in an apartment complex. Caregivers and seniors need to know the warning signs that someone is not eating well. Be aware of these subtle warning signs for poor nutrition.
- Weight loss: in the past six months has the person lost weight (more than six - 10 pounds) for no apparent reason?
- Are clothes too big or baggy around the waist?
- Mental confusion: is the person becoming more forgetful and showing signs of memory loss and confusion? This will affect grocery shopping, food safety and eating habits.
- Physical functioning: is the person able to get around and out to a store to shop? Is arthritis or poor vision affecting the ability to prepare a meal?
- Social withdrawal: do you observe the person becoming more socially isolated? Does the person have family support and friends to talk to?
- Reduced appetite and food intake: fatigue and apathy can be the result of poor nutrition, especially too little protein and iron. Eating healthy meals and drinking eight glasses of water at regular times during the day should be emphasized.
Growing older does not need to mean poor food habits. Make sure the older people you care about are not making do with tea and toast.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physican promptly. Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1 [NU_FHb01]