Good Food, Long Life
America’s population is aging. With the Baby Boom generation turning 60, more Americans are facing the possibility that they will be providing care for an elderly parent or grandparent. Most people want to make their loved one’s later years as good as possible. Providing proper nutrition is a vital part of that. Read on to learn about the special nutrition requirements of older Americans.
Basic Senior Nutrition Guidelines
Senior nutrition guidelines are very similar to guidelines for the rest of the population. The American Dietetic Association (n.d) recommends that older adults consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, with slightly more milk and other dairy products than the amounts recommended for younger adults (three servings a day for seniors, as opposed to two for most adults).
Nutrition for older adults only becomes confusing when specific medical conditions (beyond those of age) come into play. Older adults are at greater risk for health problems such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and memory problems. Many of these health problems require dietary changes to maintain health and even life. Therefore, it is vital that those responsible for feeding older adults know how to adapt meals to fit each person’s unique needs.
Eating Less is Normal
Adult children caregivers are often alarmed when carefully-prepared meals are left half-finished by the very parents who admonished them “clean your plate, there are starving children in China.” Many panic and assume a parent is starving him or herself. Though it happens, self-starvation by older adults is rare. More often, older adults eat less because they simply need fewer calories.
After age 25, caloric requirements drop by 2% for each decade a person lives (Redmond, 2009). This means that while a 25-year-old, moderately-active, 5'6”, 140lb woman would need 1900 calories to maintain weight, the same woman, at the same activity level, would require only 1600. If this woman had experienced some loss of mobility and become sedentary, spending most of her life sitting down, she would need a mere 1450 calories a day. (MayoClinic). So unless there is weight loss or other signs of ill-health, reduced food consumption is a normal part of aging and not something to worry about.
Cooking for Older Adults and Spotting Problems
Cooking for older adults has a unique set of requirements. After making sure food meets doctor’s orders, caregivers must consider the role food plays in the life of an older adult. Many elderly people are distressed by losing their independence. Allowing the older adult to make choices about what to eat can help restore some sense of control.
Many older adults prefer soft food. Often, this is the result of how they were brought up, when vegetables that still had any crunch were “not cooked.” However, if an elderly person suddenly starts refusing firm foods (for example, drinking the broth in a soup but leaving the solids), it may be the result of tooth pain or ill-fitting dentures. Caregivers should ask if teeth or gums are causing pain (even those with severe Alzheimer’s-type dementia can usually answer these types of questions), and if necessary, arrange to have the care recipients examined by a dentist familiar with geriatric care.
For Further Reading
Those interested in finding more information on caring for and feeding older Americans, or those in need of in-home care assistance, can find information from these sources:
- The National Institute on Aging www.nia.nih.gov
- American Association of Retired Persons www.aarp.org
- Caregivers Home Companion www.caregivershome.com
- Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services www.visitingangels.com
American Dietetic Association Staff. (n.d). Healthy Eating For Older Adults. EatRight.org. Retrieved 1 June, 2010 from https://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6838
MayoClinic Staff. (2010, 17 April). Calorie Calculator. MayoClinic.org. Retrieved 1 June, 2010 from https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/calorie-calculator/nu00598
Redmond, C. (2009, September). The Truth About Calories. Body + Soul. 26. 90-95.