Advice by Alicia: The Importance of Good Nutrition for Senior Adults

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Alicia Seaver is the Vice President of Memory Care Operations for EPOCH Senior Living and a Certified Memory Impairment Specialist. Every month, she addresses a specific issue related to memory and memory care. If you’re interested in hearing about a particular topic, please send a note to [email protected].

Q: What specific health benefits do seniors get from eating a nutritionally balanced diet?

A: Excellent question. A healthy diet and a healthy life go hand in hand, and that’s particularly true for senior adults. As we age, our ability to absorb and utilize nutrients lessens, meaning that nutritional needs actually increase. Add to that fact that certain medications affect nutrient absorption (particularly B vitamins), and that seniors burn fewer calories than younger people, and you quickly see why older adults need to do more with less when it comes to food.

A nutrient-rich diet has a huge impact on senior health. Research has shown that eating healthy improves cognitive function, bone health, overall physical condition, vascular function and immune systems. But for many seniors, eating well may present some challenges for a variety of reasons: difficulty getting to the store, poor oral health, disinterest in food due to loss of appetite or taste, difficulty preparing healthy meals, and so on.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever these days for seniors to eat a nutrient-rich, fresh diet filled with everything they need to stay healthy. Let’s take grocery delivery services for a start. COVID-19 caused a boom in online ordering and deliveries for just about every business you can think of. Even if your local grocery store doesn’t directly offer a delivery service, there are other third-party companies that allow you to get what you need without having to leave the house.

Pre-prepared or semi-prepared meals have come a long way in the past few years as well. Online companies like Blue Apron or HelloFresh deliver high-quality ingredients to your home along with step-by-step instructions for unique recipes. Many grocery stores also offer store-prepared meal kits that are perfectly sized for one or two people, making cooking a snap with little wasted food.

If you or a senior loved one are looking for ways to improve your nutrient intake and eat a more healthy, varied diet, here are some rules of thumb to help you get the most out of your meals:

Fill up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Filled with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, fruits and vegetables are nutrient bombs that will go a long way towards helping you get and stay healthy. Besides the usual assortment of apples, carrots, celery, and bananas, branch out and try things like kale, broccoli, squash, berries, beets, and Brussels sprouts.

Drink plenty of water. Part of a nutritionally sound diet requires water consumption as well. Hydration is incredibly important because it helps us absorb nutrients better, keeps our systems working well and keeps our minds alert (confusion and drowsiness are both signs of dehydration). Seniors tend to become dehydrated easier than younger adults due to decreased sense of thirst, medication side effects or decreased kidney function. For seniors, especially, fluid intake is critical as chronic dehydration can be a key factor for many illnesses, such as heart disease, hypertension, asthma or even joint pain and arthritis.

Get plenty of omega-3s. These fatty acids help prevent inflammation (which can cause arthritis, certain forms of cancer, heart disease and other illnesses)  and have also been proven to slow the progression of macular degeneration. It’s even suggested that omega-3s can help reduce the risk of dementia and improve overall brain health. Nutritionists suggest a serving of omega-3 fatty acids twice per week.

Omega-3s are found in some foods naturally and are sometimes added to fortified foods, such as yogurt, juices, or soy beverages. Foods where omega-3s are found naturally are fish – especially cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna – as well as nuts and seeds, including flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts. Plant oils such as soybean oil and canola oil also offer omega-3s.

Don’t skimp on calcium and vitamin D. Calcium keeps our bones strong and reduces your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Vitamin D protects against issues like multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and rheumatoid osteoporosis – and helps your body absorb calcium better.

The best way to get calcium into your body is through your diet. You likely already know that dairy products, such as milk and yogurt, provide calcium. Other foods that increase your calcium intake include spinach, kale, soybeans, and some types of fish. Calcium-fortified foods can also be beneficial, such as orange juice or cereals. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks and other fortified foods.

Nutrition is important at any age, but it’s particularly important as we age, and our bodies change. Eating healthy supports cellular function throughout the body, boosts the immune system and helps to enhance both physical health and mental function.

I highly recommend the article “Elderly Nutrition 101: Ten Foods to Keep You Healthy” for more information on building a healthy meal plan for seniors. Even if your diet has a lot to be desired, it’s never too late to start eating better and take steps towards a healthier you.

Enhancing Quality of Life

Bridges® by EPOCH communities have been developed from the ground up to anticipate, meet and exceed the needs of our residents and their families. Our team of remarkable people, the exceptional care and services we offer and the purposeful design of our buildings all combine to create the most rewarding, secure and nurturing lifestyle possible for our residents.

We understand the concern families feel about ensuring quality of life for loved ones. That’s why, at Bridges® by EPOCH, we offer a wellness-centered lifestyle that focuses on reinforcing individual strength, so residents enjoy heightened confidence and self-esteem. Ultimately, we provide everything residents need to thrive and rediscover a life with purpose.

Inspiration for Success

At our Bridges® by EPOCH communities, we work closely with families to gain necessary insight and deeper understanding into the lives of our residents upon admission. With this initial information, along with what our exceptional team members learn about our residents each and every day, we are best prepared to provide highly individualized programming for our residents.Alicica 

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