Aging changes appetite, but well-prepared caregivers can make mealtimes healthier and more enjoyable for seniors – even those who don’t feel like eating.
We live in a culture where super-sized meals are the rage, but large portion sizes can be a turn-off for older adults and one of the many things that can prevent them from eating a well-balanced diet.
“A large plate of food can be overwhelming to a senior who doesn’t have a big appetite or might find it difficult to chew and swallow,” says Sandi McCann, president of HomeCare of the Rockies and co-founder of the Caregiver Call to Serve, a three-tiered approach that advocates advanced training, income increases for qualified caregivers, and higher professional standards for care professionals.
“Physical conditions or age-related changes can also make mealtimes more difficult for both older adults and their caregivers, McCann says. “If mealtimes aren’t comfortable, the older adult is more likely to avoid eating and less likely to get the nourishment they need for mental and physical health.”
But, a caregiver who understands how the aging process changes appetite and is trained how to help, can manage those nutrition-related challenges and ensure that older adults stay healthy and well-nourished.
The Homecare 100 Training Curriculum provides this kind of practical and detailed information so caregivers are prepared and know just how to help.
Developed by McCann and her sister Maureen McCann, the HomeCare 100 provides comprehensive classroom and online training for caregivers on a range of topics including senior nutrition, dementia care, fall prevention, and end-of-life support. Caregivers also receive pay increases for each level of training they complete and those who complete the 100 hours are awarded special certification.
“This training program is all about giving caregiving professionals the tools they need to better do the job they love to do,” McCann says. “This kind of information, like techniques to help older adults stay well-nourished and hydrated, is practical information that will immediately benefit both seniors and caregivers.”
How Aging Affects Appetite
For many seniors, aging affects appetite in a dramatic way. Some experience a diminished sense of taste or smell, which makes food less enjoyable to eat. Medications can also change the flavor of food and make it unpalatable, interfering with appetite. Dental issues, poor digestion, and other physical health conditions can also make it difficult for older adults to chew and swallow and even absorb nutrients, says Jane Crawford, M.S., LAc and a nutritionist at the Health Center of Integrated Therapies for Longmont United Hospital.
Seniors who suffer from backaches or other pain may find it difficult to stand in the kitchen to cook, Crawford says. Others may simply not have the energy or desire to grocery shop and prepare a meal.
There is also an emotional component that can make mealtime difficult for older adults, McCann says. If the senior was accustomed to eating with a spouse or family members and now she finds herself eating alone, the experience may feel sad and lonely and something she’d rather avoid.
These variables are just a few of the things that make seniors reluctant to eat, but there are several approaches caregivers can use to make mealtimes more comfortable for older adults and ensure they eat a healthy diet.
We cover these techniques in-depth in the HomeCare 100 Caregiver Training Curriculum, and offer a few things here for you to keep in mind as you are providing care support to seniors.
Provide a Variety
When preparing snacks and meals, include a variety of foods. To maintain good mental and physical health, older adults need a blend of high-fiber foods, complex carbohydrates, like those found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other unprocessed foods, and lean protein like beans, fish, poultry, nuts, and eggs. By offering small portions of many different foods throughout the day, you’re more likely to find something the senior will prefer.
Before you begin any meal preparation, be sure you ask about food allergies, dietary restrictions and meal preferences. Ask too, Crawford says, about the senior’s ability to taste and chew and prepare meals accordingly.
Provide a Beverage
Be sure to include a beverage with every meal and water throughout the day to help the senior avoid dehydration, Crawford says.
Dehydration can lead to confusion, fatigue, dry mouth and skin, dizziness, difficulty walking and other symptoms, according to nutrition experts.
Yet, seniors may not even realize they need water because thirst becomes less noticeable as we age. Some medications can also decrease thirst.
By making fluids like water, low-sugar juices, lemonade, or tea accessible throughout the day, the senior will consume more. Coffee in moderation is fine too, but avoid serving all day long because it’s a diuretic and can lead to dehydration. Meals including soup or servings of fruits and vegetables are another way to help seniors stay hydrated.
Even when providing a nutritious diet and regular beverages it can be difficult to get seniors to eat. Never pressure or chide a senior who is reluctant to eat, instead, try different approaches to make mealtimes more comfortable.
Here are three strategies caregivers learn in the advanced HomeCare 100 Training Program.
Observe Eating Habits
Pay attention too, to how the senior does at mealtimes. If you notice that she seems to have difficulty chewing or swallowing, document it and speak to the care manager or report it to the family. Document any changes in drinking or eating and appetite and also keep track of your client’s dietary preferences and supply plenty of the fresh snacks and foods she enjoys.
Also, keep track of how much the older adult is drinking. Symptoms of dehydration include infrequent urination, dark urine, complaints of a headache or dry mouth, and muscle cramps. Report any changes immediately.
Changes in appetite and fluid intake can be a sign of tooth pain or mouth sores, medication interactions and other health conditions that may require treatment.
With training and awareness, you can make mealtimes healthier and more enjoyable for the older adult and that is the key to helping them stay well-nourished and hydrated.
Ready to learn more about proper nutrition and mealtime management so you have more tools to use as you care for seniors? Call now, 720-204-6083 and find out how you can become part of the dynamic HomeCare of the Rockies care team and enroll in the HomeCare 100 Training Curriculum where you earn more as you learn more.
Foods to Use
When putting together a varied meal for the older adult you care for, make sure the plate includes small servings of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fiber-rich foods.
A combination of these foods can add to a healthy diet:
Be sure to avoid high-sodium foods and be sure to talk to your care manager about any dietary restrictions.