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Senior Nutrition

January 31st, 2012

Seniors are at risk of not having their daily nutritional needs met. This can be a result of many factors such as decreased mobility, medication interactions or side effects, cognitive deficits, isolation, climate barriers and mental health issues.

What are some easy tips that seniors and their caregivers (or concerned family members) can due to minimize the risks of poor senior nutrition?

Make sure that your loved one is eating from each of the four food groups at least three times a day. For example:

Group 1 – Fruits and Vegetables contain natural disease fighting ingredients and can aide in healthy digestion. Try eating some that are dark green, red, orange and yellow such as spinach, oranges, bell peppers, etc.

Group 2 – Grains contain fiber which can aide in digestion. Remember to increase fiber slowly and to increase fluids at the same time. Eat some whole wheat pasta and breads, oatmeal (porridge), etc. Consult a physician if you have any concerns or any digestive problems.

Group 3 – Milk and Milk Alternatives help to prevent osteoporosis and aide in bone development. Additionally, this group gives us vitamin D, which may be less available in the winter months. You can eat milk, cheese or yogurt.

Group 4 – Meat and Meat Alternatives provide us with protein, vitamins and minerals. Enjoy some fish, poultry, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds.

If a senior is not able to shop or to prepare balanced meals, you can try these tips:

• Make a little extra dinner at your house a few nights a week and put one portion in a re-heatable
container with instructions on how to re-heat the meal. Leave this in your loved one’s freezer or refrigerator;

• Invite your loved one over for one meal a week at your house;

• Look into community resources, such as Meals on Wheels, to provide one to three meals a week;

• Hire a neighbor, friend, or home care agency to prepare two-four meals a week at your loved one’s home;

• Hire a teenager in the area to have one meal an evening with your loved one. This is good for social interaction for your loved one and provides the teenager with a “job” that has lifelong learning potential;

• Call your loved one’s friends and ask them to invite your loved one to dinner or lunch once a week.

Never forget how important fluid is to our body since it is made up mostly of water. Without enough water, our body has more difficulty digesting food, transporting medication, and circulating blood to aide in healthy bone and muscle development and maintenance. In the winter time, we can become more dehydrated due to being indoors with heating systems. Add soup to your meal and drink lots of water, fruit juices (100%pure), milk, and herbal teas.

Sometimes seniors are not as active as the general population. This reduction in activity can contribute to a reduced appetite. Even light and consistent exercise such as walking, yoga, stretching and chair aerobics can stimulate one’s appetite. If you find that motivation is lacking, perhaps joining an exercise group or moving into a retirement residence where group exercise activities are organized could help. Exercise also releases chemicals in our brain that help with improving one’s mood and cognitive functioning.

Written by:Sarah Blunden, Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, McGill University Bachelor in Human Nutrition 2003; Stephanie Erickson, MSW, PSW, LCSW

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