Nutrition for Seniors: A Caregiving Primer
Almost one-third of older adults don’t get enough vitamins and minerals in their diets. As a caregiver, you can help plan balanced meals that are rich in the vitamins and minerals your loved one needs.
Top Nutrients for Older Adults
As a person ages, these nutrients become more important:
- Calcium and vitamin D for bone health
- Fiber to stay regular
- Potassium for blood pressure and to avoid fatigue and depression
- Vitamin B12 for energy and brain function
- Healthy fats to lower chances of heart disease
Easy Ways to Eat Healthy
Making healthy meals doesn't have to mean careful weighing and measuring. Serve a variety of foods. Dish up a plate with one-half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter lean protein, and one-quarter grains.
Also try to:
- Serve bright-colored vegetables like broccoli, leafy greens, and carrots, and deep-colored fruits like berries and peaches.
- Offer at least three servings a day of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese fortified with vitamin D.
- Cook with less salt, which can affect blood pressure.
- Add a variety of proteins to your diet, like fish, beans, and tofu.
- Serve at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereal, bread, crackers, rice, or pasta every day, taking extra time to check fiber numbers on nutrition labels. One slice of bread and1/2 cup each of pasta and cereal add up to 3 ounces.
- Cook with vegetable oils instead of solid fats like butter.
The Importance of Water for Seniors
Older people should drink 8 cups (8 ounces each) of water a day. Getting dehydrated can cause symptoms like confusion and memory loss. Keep track of how much water the person you're caring for drinks every day to make sure it's enough.
Tips for Better Eating and Drinking
Here are a few ways to make meals and snacking easier:
- If the person has a hard time using a knife and fork, serve finger foods. Bite-sized pieces of sandwich, steamed cauliflower pieces, or cut-up fruit might fit the bill.
- Too many food choices can be overwhelming, especially if a person is in middle- or late-stage Alzheimer's. Try serving one or two foods at a time.
- Some older people may not feel thirsty until they are almost dehydrated. Offer small cups of water throughout the day and foods that have a lot of water, like fruit, soup, or smoothies.
- If chewing or swallowing is a problem, try mashing, pureeing, or moistening dry foods with broth, sauce, or milk.
- Pump up the taste and smell of meals with spices or herbs like basil and mint.
- If he's lost his appetite, put out bowls of nuts and fruit to encourage snacking.
- Serve nutritional supplement drinks or make smoothies with protein powder and his favorite fruits when he doesn't want to eat a meal.
Remember that eating provides comfort and pleasure, not just nutrition. Tweak favorite foods to make them a little healthier. Try berries on oatmeal, for instance, or add some flax to pancakes. Layer yogurt, fruit, and nuts in a fancy parfait glass. Eat together when you can.
Make meals a social event to look forward to, and your loved one will likely enjoy them more and eat better.