While most of us grew up with our parents telling us to choose nutritious foods and make healthy choices, many of our aging loved ones are no longer making those wise choices for themselves. Statistics are alarming and show that seniors in Canada are at definite risk of malnutrition and poor health due to not eating well. Their access to fresh food, their ability to care for themselves, and their general connection to their community and social interaction all play a part.
Nutritional needs & common deficiencies
Seniors have nutritional needs that are slightly more complicated than other adults. They may need fewer calories overall due to reduced activity levels, however they still require the same levels of vitamins and minerals. What is the solution? Seniors need to be sure they are choosing the most nutritious foods at every meal, with regular meals and small snacks throughout the day to ensure they get the recommended daily amounts of all crucial nutrients. This means they need more focus on their diets and health, not less. It’s important that they can access the foods they need, prepare meals that will keep them healthy, and maintain safe food practices.
Dietitians Canada has a wide range of resources for seniors to help choosing and preparing healthy foods. These could be used to spark discussions in families to help guide seniors or to help other family members recognize when their aging loved on may not be eating well enough to stay healthy, or suffering from malnutrition.
Safe food practices
There are many routines we take for granted in our busy kitchens, but sometimes these habits fade away as seniors experience loss of capabilities, vision, and memory. Regular grocery shopping, multiple people eating fresh food before it can spoil, consistent cleaning, and removal of expired items all contribute to a safe and healthy kitchen. But what happens when a senior can no longer read the best before dates on packaged goods? What about when they aren’t able to get out as often and lapse into eating what is handy and convenient rather than fresh and healthy? What if they can’t remember how long ago the milk or bread were purchased? If at any point you observe that your aging loved one cannot do these things regularly, it’s time to intervene.
Healthy eating starts with regular shopping for healthy foods. This means seniors need to be able to walk, drive, or take public transportation to buy what they need, when they need it. They may need occasional trips by car or taxi or a ride to purchase heavier or larger items they cannot manage while walking or buses.
Storing food safely
It’s a good idea to clear out stale or expired food as it is discovered but especially before shopping to ensure old and new foods are not mixed together. As soon as food is brought home, it should be put away properly, with cold foods in the refrigerator and frozen items placed immediately in the freezer. Freezers and pantries also need to be cleaned out every few months to ensure food is still safe to eat.
Care should be taken to follow guidelines when thawing foods. Meat should be thawed in the refrigerator and all foods monitored closely to ensure they do not reach room temperature. Once foods are thawed, they should be cooked thoroughly to a safe temperature immediately.
Food needs to be cooked properly, to the recommended safe temperature, every time. This means using meat thermometers, checking safety guidelines and being able to gauge when food is ready to eat.
Kitchen surfaces should be kept clean, as should sinks, utensils, and dishcloths. Are these all being cleaned and disinfected regularly? Are the fridge and stove clean? Is care being taken to ensure no cross-contamination of surfaces occurs when preparing meat? Hand washing should take place before food preparation begins and after handling raw meat.
Loneliness, mobility issues, financial worries, and social isolation can all place seniors at risk of poor health from unmet nutritional needs. A senior who has recently lost a loved one or is living alone for the first time is more likely to skip meals or avoid cooking altogether. Neighborhoods without easy walking access to a grocery stores and fresh food markets can be difficult to navigate for seniors who may no longer be driving. Finally, limited financial means may cause seniors to skip fresh produce and other nutritious choices in favor of inexpensive and less healthful alternatives.
What should you do if you suspect your senior parent is suffering from malnutrition or showing signs that they may be at risk? Talk to them about it, find ways to make it easier for them to fill their kitchens with healthy foods, and explore ways to support them as needed.
What if your aging loved one is not able to prepare their own meals or do their own grocery shopping? We offer a wide variety of support services to help meet your family’s needs.
Have questions or feedback on what you just read? Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to chat with you.
~ Senior Homecare by Angels Calgary team