We generally know to expect mental and even some physical changes as people age, but not everyone thinks about diet. But this is an area that should concern residents of Mt. Vernon and elsewhere, especially those receiving palliative care.
Each person may be a little different in terms of their individual metabolism and digestive process, but the team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care will be happy to discuss possible changes – and possible solutions – to seniors, their family and any caregivers.
In many cases, people’s appetite may be reduced and they may begin to lose some of their sense of taste and smell. The act of eating may hurt their mouths if they have dental problems, even further decreasing their motivation to practice good and regular eating habits.
But for many, it’s this time of life where it’s even more important that they eat certain types of food to fuel their bodies, especially protein, whether it’s in the form of solid food or supplements such as powders and shakes. They also may begin to have deficiencies in other areas, so they may need to increase intake of vitamins or other minerals.
Overall poor nutrition can negatively impact health that may already be weakening.
A health provider will likely encourage family members and caregivers to pay more attention to what their loved one is eating, how much they’re eating and when they’re eating.
This observation may include watching how people prepare their meals. While cooking for oneself can be a sign of independence, beginning to develop problems doing so can suggest a loss of independence and abilities or a possible need for occupational therapy.
For people wondering how to watch people’s food intake, begin with these strategies:
- Physical condition. Are they visibly losing weight? Are they complaining about feeling weaker? Do you see them eat?
- Hydration. Drinking regularly and adequate amounts of water or water-based liquids (tea, coffee, juices) is even more important than eating regularly – and more damaging for someone who doesn’t do so. Are they having problems going to the bathroom? Do they have a drier mouth than usual, have clammier skin or feel more light-headed?
- Medication. Some medications may upset someone’s stomach, especially if required to take them near mealtimes. Others may be recommended to be taken with food to avoid nausea. Others may interfere with appetite or even hydration.
- Snacking. Though some snacks through the day are good to keep blood sugar levels and energy good, having too many or too big of snacks may interfere with regular meal schedules. Even worse, some snacks are poor in nutrition and high in less healthy ingredients. Someone who loves a regular snack may be encouraged to eat something healthier than high-carbohydrate items like a lot of chips, cookies or candy.
- Activities. Scheduling activities too close to mealtime can also impact a regular eating schedule and possibly disrupt a planned schedule and routine. Caregivers especially should be sensitive to this and try to provide meals around the same schedule. Being out of sync with their meals could impact their entire day and even sleep schedule.
Monitoring someone’s food intake doesn’t have to be something invasive. It can even be something performed cooperatively between that person and their caregiver or family member. It can even be used as a way to help plan healthy meals.
Focus on allergies
Another dietary change that’s possible is increased allergies.
More and more research is showing that seniors are increasingly likely to have food sensitivities and allergies, even if they haven’t been a problem earlier in life.
Today’sGeriatricMedicine.com said a variety of factors could cause these possible allergies, such as possible nutrient and mineral deficiencies, reduced immune system, an increased amount of gastric acid in the stomach or greater sensitivity to other allergens.
The result is that seniors may be more susceptible to contact allergies, such as their skin being affected by touching certain items and having a reaction like tingling or hives, or anaphylactic reaction if their whole body reacts if they eat something that causes a reaction.
This type of reaction could cause swelling and even a dangerous loss of breathing unless it’s treated immediately with antihistamines, an Epi-pen or a visit to a doctor or the emergency room.
This is why the monitoring of food is especially important. A provider may see the symptoms of an allergic reaction and try to treat those, such as rashes, shortness of breath or swelling. But a concerned family member who shares what they ate and what the reaction was will make it easier for a provider to come up with a good diagnosis and course of treatment.
Medical experts expect there to be more research into possible allergies affecting seniors in the future. This is partly because there hasn’t been a lot of research of knowledge that has been done, and there’s also a larger population group that keeps growing. There is also more attention to possible environmental factors that could cause changes in diet and reactions to certain foods, including more allergens in the air and in foods.
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care can provide more suggestions on effective ways to monitor dietary and nutritional levels.