Tips for Improving Nutritional Intake of the Elderly
Helping an elderly individual to improve nutritional intake can be difficult and there are seldom easy answers. However, here are a few things that could potentially help:
1. Decrease meal size and increase the frequency of meals.
An individual with a reduced appetite will likely respond more positively to small meals and snacks versus an overflowing plate. Smaller meals can also benefit individuals who have certain digestive problems.
2. Increase variety.
Certainly, although taste and smell may be diminished as we age, our appetite can be blunted somewhat by eating the same things over and over. This is something that isolated individuals tend to do. Thus, getting them to vary their diet more can help stimulate appetite and, in many instances, can improve the nutritional balance of their meals. While some elderly individuals may gravitate toward bland foods, trying foods with more and different flavors may help stimulate appetite.
3. Increase socialization.
Eating is a social activity for most of us and we tend to eat more in social situations. If an elderly individual lives alone, they don't get this interaction. Eating can become a chore. Moving eating back into the realm of socialization can help. It can also enhance their overall mood. Scheduling time to eat with an elderly loved one more often or hiring a companion can be two of the options available.
4. Increase the level of activity.
Getting an elderly individual involved in more physical activity can help stimulate appetite and improve nutritional intake. From taking a walk around the block to participating in group exercise, any activity can be beneficial as long as a physician approves it.
5. Investigate oral medications.
Talk with the physician about which medications may be reducing appetite. Can the medication be changed to something with less of a negative effect on appetite? Can some medications be taken via other routes to reduce the number of oral medications taken each day? Some medications, for instance, have an alternative that can be given less frequently or via a shot, a patch, nasal inhaler, or some other method.
6. Consider high-calorie supplements.
There are a number of products available that provide more calories, more protein, and other nutrients that can be used to supplement meals. Products such as Boost, Ensure, and other shake-like drinks are common. Again, check with the physician for recommendations on supplements to boost elderly nutrition. These come in the form of bars to chew, thickened drinks like shakes, and in a juice-like form.
7. Increase protein intake.
Although you want an increased caloric intake, increasing carbohydrates primarily isn't often the best way to do it. Increasing protein intake will offer more benefits and should be a target as well.
8. Evaluate the need for assistive or rehabilitative services.
Some elderly individuals may have difficulty preparing meals. Whether it is an issue of strength and endurance or something else, it is appropriate in some cases to have meals delivered or prepared ahead of time by a family member. In other situations, rehabilitation may be needed for the purpose of increasing strength and endurance or to evaluate the need for assistive devices to help with self-feeding.
9. Consider their mental health.
An evaluation by a healthcare provider/physician is important. If depression, or perhaps cognitive problems exist, they need to be addressed.
10. Consider Appetite Stimulants.
A doctor can evaluate and prescribe these as needed. Megestrol Acetate is one sometimes used for patients on chemotherapy but can be effective for other individuals as well.
11. Consider other physical problems.
If an elderly individual coughs during meals or seems to have difficulty getting their food chewed and swallowed, an evaluation is necessary.
Certainly, complaints of nausea, vomiting, bloating, and so forth could indicate digestive or other medical problems as well. Again, a medical evaluation should be pursued first in these cases.
In addition, check their dentures to be sure they fit well. If there has already been significant weight loss, this will influence the fit of dentures as will the bone loss that occurs in many individuals as they continue to age. Good dentition is critical for adequate elderly nutrition.