If you’re going to be taking on caring responsibilities for an elderly family member or loved one, ensuring that they maintain a balanced and healthy diet should be high on your list of to-do’s. At PrimeCarers we’re fully aware of the stressful, and often time demanding, requirements that a caring role can involve.
That’s why our goal is to provide all the information that you need to know in as straightforward and accessible a way as possible, so you can concentrate on the things that really matter: caring for the ones you love.
Managing Nutrition for the Elderly
Regardless of age, everybody in the UK should make sure their diet includes a wide range of food types, all of which help to provide the body with the necessary nutrients to promote a healthy lifestyle. Sourcing a broad pallet of nutrient-rich foods means incorporating an even keel of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish. By including other less prevalent, yet equally as nutritious, food groups such as grains and milk-based foods, you’ll be creating an extremely well-balanced diet.
The best place to start when devising a diet plan for somebody of an older age is to make sure these fundamentals remain a dietary cornerstone. The health benefits of a well-rounded diet are numerous and will help, amongst other things, to lower the risk of heart disease, strokes, obesity, certain types of cancers and type-2 diabetes.
This said, there are subtle, yet important, differences between the amounts of each food type that people of certain ages should consume. As we get older our bodies require less energy to carry out basic metabolic functions. In large part, this is due to a drop-off in what’s called the basal metabolic rate but can also be affected by a decrease in the amount of physical activity one’s able to do. These factors can result in a reduction in the amount of lean body muscle and an increase in fatty tissue, making the elderly more susceptible to some of the health problems referenced above.
So, if you’re going to be caring for an elderly person, or are, here are some of the foods that you should make sure every diet plan includes.
Diet for the Elderly
We recommend including fish, especially oily fish, in the diet of elderly people at least twice a week. Research suggests it’s an effective way of reducing the risk of various types of cancer, as well as boosting various cognitive functions and contributing to the health of the eyes. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna are rich in vital Omega-3 fatty acids as well as being great sources of protein—regardless of whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned.
Fruits and Vegetables
Ensuring elderly people are consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables in their diet is extremely important. Both are low calorie food sources, packed with nutrients and fibre. While we all have our preferences, some of the most beneficial fruit and veg for elderly people include dark-skinned fruits like blackberries, red grapes and plums (all typically full of antioxidants); leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli and spinach; and apples. Again, don’t be scared to stock up on fresh, frozen and even tinned varieties.
Starchy foods are the primary source of carbohydrates for our bodies and typically make up a third of the food we eat—a dietary principal that should remain unchanged for the elderly. Try and include foods that are rich in starch – potatoes, bread, pasta – in lunch and evenings meals, as their fibrous qualities help with digestion and the general health of the intestines. We recommend choosing wholegrain varieties where possible.
Beans, pulses and eggs
Try and include beans and pulses in at least one meal a day. These can include lentils and chickpeas, as well as a range of beans such as kidney, butter and cannellini. They’re all highly nutritious, low-fat sources of protein and iron that provide a healthier alternative to fattier cuts of meat. If you’re buying tinned pulses, then it’s best to opt for low-salt and sugar options. Eggs are also a low-calorie source of protein, iron and Vitamin D – a single egg can contain up to 6g of protein and 40 IUs of Vitamin D – and help to raise the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels in the body.
Making changes to diet plans, especially for elderly people, can often be met with an air of reluctance. It’s important to understand that a little patience may be required before new diet plans are properly implemented. This said if time passes and you notice that the person you’re caring for is showing signs of weight loss (or indeed weight gain) then we recommend you refer them to a GP or dietician.
Following a diet plan that includes a blend of the major food groups should help supply the body with the most important vitamins and minerals it requires. However, as we age there can be reasons why certain deficiencies begin to form, and in such a situation, might require one to regularly supplement certain vitamins and minerals.
Here’s the information you need to know about the most important vitamins and minerals: what they do, where to find them and whether or not you might need to supplement them alongside the diet of the elderly person you’re caring for.
Food supplements for elderly
While small traces of Vitamin D can be found in different foods, its most commonly produced (naturally) by our bodies when the skin is directly exposed to sunlight. It’s essential for keeping the bones healthy, and a general reluctance amongst elderly people to spend time out in the sun can often mean they’re not producing enough of it. If getting the person you’re caring out in direct sunlight a little more isn’t possible, then we recommend you find a Vitamin D supplement. A daily 10mcg tablet should be ample, but always consult with a GP first as this may vary from person-to-person.
Vitamin C is commonly supplemented alongside diet plans for people of all ages. However, a healthy, well-balanced diet should supply the body with all the Vitamin C it requires. It helps keep your cells healthy, battles high blood pressure and provides immune system support. We find Vitamin C in a wide range of vegetable and fruits (citrus fruits in particular) and ensuring the person you’re caring for is getting their five or more portions that we recommend above, then a supplement shouldn’t be required.
We need Iron in our diets as it helps to produce haemoglobin – a key component of the circulatory system that helps the blood to transport oxygen. Elderly people actually require less iron in their diets than those under the age of 50, and the chance of an iron deficiency in fact decreases as we get older. However, it’s still important to look out for the symptoms of iron deficiency in your role as a carer. It can lead to depleted energy levels, and the potential symptoms might include tiredness, muscle weakness and shortness of breath. If the person you’re caring for is displaying these symptoms then you should consult a GP.
Like Vitamin D, Calcium is an extremely important contributor to bone health. The daily recommended calcium intake is higher for over 70’s as the body struggles to process and digest it as efficiently in older age – the intestines don’t absorb it as proficiently and the kidneys struggle to retain it. If you’re caring for somebody over the age of 70, it’s important to see that they’re consuming around 1,200mg of calcium per day. While it can be found naturally in dairy products such as milk and yoghurt, a supplement of around 800 IU/day will help strengthen the bones of the person you’re caring for.
Hydration for the Elderly
Dehydration is often called a silent killer. Older people are especially at risk, as, with ages, comes a host of diseases that make dehydration more likely. Reduced sensations like thirst, poor renal function and simply forgetfulness or cognitive impairment like Dementia, can lead do the elderly not drinking enough. This is compounded by the side effects of many medications, that often act as diuretics (increase urine production) or laxatives.
The first thing to do is to spot it. Dry-mouth, lips and tongue, inelastic skin, drowsiness, low blood pressure, dizziness, disorientation and strong urine can all be signs of dehydration.
Managing hydration for the elderly
At the simplest level, reminding them to drink enough water can be very effective.
It can also help to have them take a full glass of water with their medication and to have a glass or jug of water by their chair or on the side in the kitchen at all times. It may help to have squash or juice in the house to make drinking more palatable.
Beyond that, monitoring and correction is the only real way to ensure they have taken enough fluids. Below is an example of a Fluids and Solids monitoring sheet, that you can download or create yourself, that will allow you to record it all more closely:
If you have found this useful or if we have gotten anything wrong, please do let us know. And if you have any questions, please get in touch, by clicking on the chat icon to the right of your screen, or by going to the contact us section.