Eating well and getting enough nutrition to maintain a healthy weight can prove to be a challenge for senior citizens. Many individuals do not have the same appetite in old age, but not eating enough can cause serious vitamin and nutrient deficiencies along with unwanted weight loss.
Judith Knudsen, family living educator with Brown County UW-Extension, says there are other age-related changes that can affect older people’s appetites and nutrition levels. “Food may not be as appealing if the senses of taste and smell are not as sharp as before,” explained Knudsen.
Older adults might not realize that frequent thirst and dry mouth may lead to tooth decay and gingivitis. Also, caregivers and independent elderly should be aware that muscle loss may contribute to difficulties chewing and swallowing, which increases the risk of choking.
If you are caring for an older adult who could benefit from consuming more nutritious foods, Knudsen offers some tips.
- Serve soft and easy-to-chew foods such as mashed sweet potatoes, cooked pasta, canned fruits, scrambled eggs, pudding, yogurt and cheese. “Make smoothies for breakfast,” suggested Knudsen.
- Prepare hearty soups and chunky stews with plenty of well-cooked vegetables.
- Offer nutrient-rich, high-calorie snacks like peanut butter or avocados when gaining weight is a priority.
- Make lunch the main meal of the day and serve colorful foods.
- Provide plenty of water and fluids to increase hydration.
- Encourage an older adult to eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than sticking to a rigid schedule of three meals a day.
“Make eating and preparing food easier by using kitchen tools and utensils specifically designed for older adults or people with disabilities,” said Knudsen.
Also, eating alone can also reduce appetite. Knudsen recommends that elderly adults share meals with family members, friends or caregivers as a way to make dining a more pleasurable experience.
Contact your local county UW-Extension office to learn more or visit http://yourcountyextensionoffice.org.