Q & A: Healthy Eating for Seniors

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Good nutrition takes work at any stage of life, but particularly during the senior years. Aging can bring about a lot of changes, from changes in daily activity and social interaction to changes in your physical health, which may significantly impact diet and eating habits.

The following questions come from caregivers who participated in a Live Chat, sponsored by the Home Instead Senior Care® network, to get advice for helping an aging adult get the right nutrition. Home Instead Senior Care Nutrition Consultant Kristie Ryan and Molly Carpenter, author, speaker, trainer and family caregiver offer their expert advice.

Q: We are really concerned about my mother-in-law’s lack of appetite and protein deficiency. When she does have an appetite, it is only for sweet things. What can we do?

Molly Carpenter: I think the first thing to figure out is why she isn’t interested in eating anymore. Some questions to consider:

  • Is there a chronic illness present where she takes medications that are possibly changing her taste buds or curbing her appetite?
  • Does she have any dental issues, dry mouth or chewing difficulties?
  • Has her activity level changed? Regular physical activity can help stimulate the appetite.
  • Has her mood changed? Depression and loneliness can affect a person’s desire to eat.
  • Can you suggest having friends over for a meal or taking her out for an occasional meal?

It’s also important to remember that taste and smell decline is a normal part of aging. Try to find foods you know she loved in the past, maybe even favorite family meals. Try adding some natural flavor enhancements to food such as olive oil, garlic, onions, spices, cinnamon, and ginger. Or even have breakfast for dinner to up meals for a change.

There is a lot of protein in breakfast foods. Greek yogurt is another great option for a high protein food choice as well as the different granola bars that have added protein. You are going to have to try a few things and see what works.

Q: What recommendations do you have for those whose loved ones are rapidly losing weight?

Molly Carpenter: First, it’s important to understand why the weight loss is occurring. When you know this it can give clues to a solution.

By understanding the reason, you can find solutions. As far as solutions and ideas on eating more, I think back to when my grandmother had cancer. She was not hungry at all and lost so much weight so fast. Our solutions were around finding higher calorie foods that were easy to eat and nutrient dense. Some of those examples included frozen potpies and lasagna, meals that had good food and lots of calories.

Q: What can be substituted for veggies as sometimes my patient gets frequent bowel movements after eating vegetables? Also, is it ok to give her cream of mushroom soup, or tomato cream soup frequently, since that is what she prefers?

Kristie Ryan: Try adding iron rich vegetables to the diet such as dark leafy greens and red beans. This should help stabilize the bowel movements. Canned soups are high in sodium so you need to watch out for that. But what we really want is for your patient to eat, so eating the same thing often is not terrible, although not ideal.

For more expert advice on senior nutrition, view the transcript from the Steps to Healthier Eating for You and Your Loved One Live Chat with Molly and Kristie.