Eating well can play a significant role in keeping healthy and feeling good. Good nutrition is especially important for the elderly and people living with conditions such as Dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

We’ve put together some general advice about providing good nutrition for the elderly and overcoming any problems that may arise.

Why good nutrition is so important for the elderly

Good nutrition for older adults can reduce the risk of some age-related conditions such as heart disease and cognitive decline. Healthy eating can also protect teeth, bones and joints as we age.

In general, older people need a healthy balanced diet just like the rest of the population. However, the elderly have some specific nutritional needs. They are also more likely to experience obstacles to eating well, such as difficulty chewing or poor appetite.

Ensuring good nutrition for older adults is a vital part of keeping healthy and feeling good.

What is a healthy balanced diet?

A balanced diet should contain:

  • Five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Whole-grain pasta, brown rice, wholewheat bread and oats
  • Lean proteins such as white fish, chicken and tofu
  • Beans and pulses such as baked beans or lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Two portions of oily fish per week or a vegetarian equivalent such as walnuts or flaxseeds

To stay healthy, you should limit the amount of processed food consumed, as these foods contain very little nutrition.

It is a good idea to limit your intake of:

  • Cakes and biscuits
  • Processed meats such as sausages, bacon and meat pies
  • Sugary drinks
  • Fried food such as chips
  • Pizza

Specific nutrition for the elderly

Our ability to absorb certain vitamins and minerals declines as we age. This means that even with a healthy diet, older people may not get enough of certain vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, folate, B12 and B6.

Low levels of folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 have been linked with an increased risk of stroke and dementia. For this reason, it is a good idea for older adults to take a vitamin and mineral supplement.

Older people are also often deficient in vitamin D. This is partly because they tend to go outdoors less than younger people and partly because their skin is less efficient at producing vitamin D from sunlight. The NHS recommends that all adults over the age of 65 take a supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D daily.

Calorie requirements of older adults

Often our calorie requirement reduces as we age. This is because our metabolism slows down, and we may be less active. In general, most older people need to eat a little less than they did when they were younger. However, some conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease may cause a person to need more calories.

If you are gaining or losing weight, you should adjust the amount you eat as necessary. Ask your doctor or practice nurse to weigh you to ensure you are within a healthy weight range and to keep an eye on any changes.

Overcoming problems with appetite

Many older people find that they do not have the same appetite they did when they were younger. This can be due to being less active or because some health conditions such as depression and dementia can affect appetite.  Also, some medications can cause a reduction in appetite. However, if your appetite is poor and you are not eating enough this can lead to weight loss, nutritional deficiencies and health problems.

If your appetite is poor, it is even more important to eat healthy foods as much as possible to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. However, it’s okay to have the occasional treat and enjoy a little of what you fancy.

If you are finding it hard to eat enough, you could try eating little and often rather than having large meals. Eating healthy snacks, such as yoghurt, cheese and crackers, toast and Marmite, a milky drink, or a bowl of healthy breakfast cereal with milk, is a great way to get extra calories and nutrients.

Being overweight

Being very overweight increases our risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers. Of course, it can be hard to lose weight, however, small changes can make a big difference. Try cutting out sugary drinks, crisps and biscuits to start with. Increasing your activity levels (link to exercise article) can also help you lose weight and has many other health benefits, too.

Difficulty eating

If you are having difficulty chewing or swallowing food, then it is a good idea to see your doctor and dentist for a check-up. Poor-fitting dentures, tooth problems and mouth ulcers can all make it difficult or painful to chew. In the meantime, eat soft foods, such as minced meat, mashed potatoes, soups and smoothies.

Food hygiene

Our immune systems can weaken as we age. This can increase the risk of food-borne illness or food poisoning. This means it is particularly important to be careful over food hygiene. Wash your hands before preparing food or eating, wipe down surfaces with hot soapy water before preparing food and avoid eating foods that are past their use-by date.

You may want to avoid foods containing raw eggs, such as cake batter or homemade mayonnaise. It’s also a good idea to wash fruit and vegetables, especially pre-packaged salads, thoroughly before eating.

Medical conditions and diet

If you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure then you may need to adjust your diet accordingly. Talk to your doctor about what diet is suitable for you.

Some medications can interact with certain foods. For example, if you are taking Warfarin, you need to avoid eating grapefruit as it affects your body’s ability to metabolize the drug.

If you are taking medication and are unsure if you need to make changes to your diet, you should check with your doctor or pharmacist.

How Mumby’s Live-in Care can help

At Mumby’s, we pride ourselves on taking care of our clients in a holistic way to ensure they are healthy and happy in mind and body. Our caring staff are trained in nutrition for the elderly as well as nutrition for health conditions such as Parkinson’s and nutrition and food issues in patients with Dementia.

If you need help supporting a loved one, speak to a friendly member of our team today on freephone 0800 505 3511 or email info@mumbys.com to find out how we can assist you with your live-in care needs.

Try live-in care without a long-term commitment

Our live-in care 2-week trial allows you to try our outstanding live-in care. You can make an informed decision for your loved one without any long-term commitment. Book a free no-obligation care assessment.

References

Age UK

British Nutrition Foundation