It’s not a surprise that young people eat differently than older people. After all, today’s seniors have had decades to refine their palates and may enjoy being a little choosier about what they consume. There are also some biological changes taking place as well, as our bodies sometimes crave different types of food and flavorings than when we were kids.
But employees of Accredited Home Care do like knowing if someone’s tastes, interest in food and regular diet change significantly. This could potentially be an indicator of a change in physical or mental health.
It also could be a sign of an imbalance somewhere; perhaps that their body is missing out on some particular nutrient, which turns into a larger craving. Or it could be an indicator of an eating disorder or other mental problems such as dementia.
A home health care representative is a good person to observe and discuss what someone is eating. They can also share this information with a health care provider or dietary specialist who can evaluate what their current diet is and if any changes are merited for optimal health.
Medical professionals with knowledge of diet and nutrition, especially in the elderly, can also determine if these dietary changes can constitute an eating disorder.
This is a good time of the year for Northridge residents to begin to learn more: National Eating Disorder Awareness Week runs Feb. 26-March 8. It’s an annual time of the year to research eating disorders in different populations and what resources exist to help people and their loved ones.
The National Eating Disorders Association said while there’s a common perception that most eating disorders are experienced by teens, especially girls, all ages can be susceptible. Women between age 50 and 70 also commonly have eating disorders due to feelings of self-worth and making unhealthy connections between food, weight loss and self-esteem.
With the theme of “Let’s Get Real,” people are encouraged to spread the word, learn more and share more.
The National Council on Aging said some degree of dietary changes in senior populations is common. This may be due to biological factors like a slower metabolism, which means a possibility of more weight gain or at least the need for extra exercise to burn off the weight.
It also could mean a need for lower calories as well, or a need for meals with better nutrients, rather than whatever you want to eat that feels good that was more common when you were younger. It could also mean less appetite in general, and oral health changes, which mean less interest in food that’s hard to chew.
Because of these changes like fewer calories or smaller quantities, it’s even more important to have better quality food at every meal, such as items higher in nutrients.
The NCOA suggests lean protein; fruit and vegetables; whole grains; and low-fat dairy. Looking for items low in sodium, fat and sugars but high in fiber and Vitamin D. Staying hydrated also helps.
The National Institutes of Health even suggests using a different Food Pyramid especially for people age 70 and over.
This includes water at the top, not the bottom, as it is in the general pyramid. Physical activity is one way the senior can stimulate the consumption of other nutrients. The need for Vitamins B12 and D, plus calcium, are on the pyramid, as well as higher protein intake and more macronutrients.
Risk of Malnutrition
One of the challenges seen in some elderly people in the Northridge area is less about what they’re eating, but what they’re not eating. Malnutrition is common as well, and could be caused by a number of factors.
- Mental declines which makes it harder to remember what to make or eat
- Lack of education, especially if a spouse or family member previously took care of proper feeding and meal preparation.
- Socioeconomic factors, such as if someone believes they can’t afford quality food.
- Health problems which can limit interest or ability to prepare food.
- Living arrangements, such as if a senior lives by themselves and isn’t interested in cooking.
Whatever the cause, malnutrition can contribute to health problems, including a lower immune system, weakness, physical decline and metal slowness.
How Home Healthcare Can Help
Along with visits for skilled nursing functions and other medical evaluations, home health care employees can provide other services.
They can bring in speech therapists or massage therapists. They can also provide advice in preparing food properly. They can go to the store for a client or bring the client with them to help pick out better items.
Or, in some cases, a representative from a home health agency can assist with meal preparation, such as the in-home caregivers available through Accredited Home Care.
Overall, proper diet can make a difference in someone’s health, and home health care professionals can help.