My 84-year-old father recently had some blood work done as part of his annual physical. I was shocked when the results came back! He is suffering from a number of vitamin deficiencies, along with high cholesterol and anemia.
I need to help him get his health back on track, but I don’t even know where to begin.
Do you have any suggestions?
Reasons an Older Adult Might be Experiencing Poor Nutrition
You are not alone! Seniors frequently develop poor eating habits, especially if they live alone. It often catches adult children off guard to learn how poor their loved one’s nutrition is. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that as much as 25% of older adults suffer from poor nutrition or full-blown malnutrition.
There are a variety of reasons that contribute to the elderly not eating a healthy diet.
- Meal preparation troubles: Sometimes poor nutrition in an elder is caused by a health condition, such as arthritis or Parkinson’s disease, which makes it tough to prepare meals. Chopping, slicing, and dicing healthy foods can be painful.
- Lack of transportation: Other times, it is a lack of transportation to and from the grocery store that causes a senior’s diet to suffer. They rely on convenience foods instead of fruit, vegetables, and protein. Canned and frozen foods might be easier to prepare, but most are loaded with unhealthy fats and sodium.
- No interest in food: Loss of appetite in elderly people is another potential cause of malnutrition. It is often caused by a medication or a health condition like depression.
- Problems swallowing: Dysphagia is a term used to describe when a person has difficulty swallowing. It can make older adults reluctant to eat for fear of choking.
Figuring out what the issue is and how to help your loved one with meal preparation and coordination is an important first step.
Improving Nutrition Among the Elderly
Depending on what specific issues are keeping your father from eating a well-balanced diet, there are options available.
- In-home assistance: It might help to hire an in-home caregiver to assist with menu planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation. The aide can stock the refrigerator and freezer with healthy meals that are ready to eat.
- Adaptive utensils: If your father is having trouble with hand-eye coordination or has a disability that makes it more difficult to manipulate traditional utensils, talk with his primary care physician or a physical therapist. There are a variety of adaptive utensils for elderly people that make meal time easier to manage independently.
- Meals on Wheels: Most cities and counties offer some type of Meals on Wheels senior nutrition program. Well-balanced meals are delivered each day right to the senior’s front door. Payments are often based on a sliding scale, making it affordable for adults of all income levels.
- Physician support: If your father’s difficulties stem from a fear of choking, talk with his physician. They can likely recommend a nutritionist who specializes in food for elderly people with swallowing difficulties.
- Prepared meals for seniors: You might also want to explore home delivery meal services. Some services cook and freeze meals before they are delivered, while others simply prepare the ingredients for the client to cook on their own. A few to explore are Freshly, Purple Carrot, and Blue Apron.
I also recommend you take a look at Nutrition Resources for Seniors. It has more suggestions you might find useful.
I hope this information helps you and your father, Pat!