Regardless of age, adequate nutrition forms the foundations of good health from both a physical and mental perspective. When we reach our senior years, eating the right foods becomes increasingly important to maintaining good health. As a family caregiver, it’s common to worry about whether your loved one is getting all the right macro and micronutrients to support their mind and body, and choosing food for seniors with dementia can bring up further challenges.
Why Good Nutrition is Essential for Seniors
Maintaining great nutrition is paramount for all seniors, especially those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Key benefits of a rich, balanced diet for seniors include:
- Prevention or management of conditions like osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
- Weight control.
- Increased energy and mental alertness.
- Boosted immune system.
- Feelings of increased happiness, health and independence.
Common Challenges with Nutrition for Seniors
There are a range of factors that might contribute to a newfound difficulty in ensuring your loved one gets the varied, balanced diet they need. For example, if you can’t be there 24/7, they may struggle to get to the grocery store or cook their own meals due to declining mobility.
Another common issue seniors face is the effects of various medications that might change the taste of food, give them a dry mouth or reduce appetite altogether, making eating feel like much more of a task. If they’re losing their sense of smell or taste or having difficulties chewing or swallowing, this could also lead to more apathetic feelings towards mealtimes.
Nutrition and Seniors with Dementia
Selecting the right food for seniors with dementia can be instrumental not only in improving their quality of life, but in supporting brain health for as long as possible as well. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia present their own challenges for seniors. In the early stages of dementia – perhaps when your loved one is newly diagnosed and still living independently, you might start to notice them forgetting to eat from time to time.
If they do not yet feel ready to find residential care, daily visits from a friend or family member are important to keep track of their food intake and avoid problems like weight loss and malnutrition. Hiring a professional caregiver who can ensure they’re both nourished and safe in the home could be a positive way forward.
Tips for Easier, More Successful Mealtimes
When caring for a family member with dementia, mealtimes can be challenging, especially if they have lost interest in eating or don’t enjoy the same foods as they once did. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make mealtimes easier for your parent or loved one, ensuring they get the right nutrition to support their health.
- Be patient. In many situations, patience is key when caring for a senior with dementia, and mealtimes are no different. Make it clear that there is plenty of time for them to eat and try to make sure they don’t feel rushed.
- Take the lead. Explaining to an individual with dementia that they should eat and why is rarely successful. It may be much more useful to form a routine of eating alongside them, encouraging them to follow your lead. Keep strong eye contact and offer smiling encouragement throughout, without distracting them by talking excessively.
- Offer small, regular meals and snacks. For seniors with dementia, eating large meals can feel daunting, particularly if they’re having difficulties with swallowing or chewing. Offering smaller plates at more regular intervals can help them reach calorie targets without becoming overwhelmed.
- Provide meals that encourage independence. Think about what utensils they find easiest to use independently, and adapt meals to suit them wherever possible. This could mean serving food that can be eaten using a spoon, or even offering finger foods like vegetable pieces or chicken nuggets.
- Offer them foods that are easier to chew and swallow. Difficulties with chewing and swallowing are common in seniors, and can even be a symptom of certain types of dementia. If this is something your loved one struggles with, make mealtimes a little less daunting by serving soft or ground foods, or by cutting meals into bite sized pieces for them.
What to Include on Their Plate?
In many ways, nutrition for seniors with dementia is very similar to nutrition for the rest of us, with a few adjustments. For example, if they aren’t as interested in food as they used to be, you may wish to focus on providing high-calorie meals to prevent weight loss.
Encourage small, frequent meals served with high-calorie drinks, plenty of veggies and extra fats like butter, mayonnaise or dressings. It may be useful to speak with your loved one’s physician for recommendations tailored to their personal needs or ask for a referral to a nutritionist.
In general, aim to include the following food groups in most meals:
- Fruit or vegetables, particularly antioxidant-rich leafy greens like kale, spinach and broccoli.
- Calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt and almonds to maintain bone health and prevent issues like fractures and osteoporosis.
- A source of protein like eggs, nuts, fish, beans or meats to improve mood and resist anxiety, stress and depression.
- Fiber-rich foods to improve skin health and aid with digestion.
- Whole grain carbs for slow-releasing energy.
- Foods high in Omega-3 like olive oil, salmon, or flax seeds for brain health.
Maintaining adequate nutritional intake and choosing the right foods for seniors with dementia is a common worry for family caregivers, but there are steps you can take to keep your loved one nourished and healthy.
If you’re still struggling to encourage your loved one to eat sufficiently, why not take a look at an expert memory care facility or residential assisted living facilities in San Antonio? Finding a great community like Pipestone Place Assisted Living could alleviate your worries and provide the perfect solution for both your loved one and yourself.
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