September 29, 2023
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Fuel for the Golden Journey: How Diet Shapes Elderly Well-being

Last week, we took a short journey through the world of exercise and activity, looking at it's benefits for those who choose to age gracefully at home. We saw how how movement, even in its simplest forms, can usher in a plethora of health benefits for our elderly loved ones.

But physical activity is just one aspect of the holistic approach we're exploring. As we journey through our series on the four pillars of a healthy lifestyle for aging in place, this week, we shift our focus to another equally vital component: nutrition and diet.

Eat nutrient dense foods

The foods our elders consume play an instrumental role in determining their overall well-being, energy levels, and even mood.

Just as exercise builds the body's external strength and stamina, nutrition works its magic from within, fortifying cells, boosting immunity, and ensuring optimal organ function. So, let's dive in and uncover the essentials of nutrition and how it intertwines with the unique needs of the elderly.

Together, we'll explore strategies, tips, and insights to make every meal both nutritious and delightful for our loved ones.

How Food Choices Impact Energy and Health

We all have to eat.

Sometimes, it's easier to pick something quick instead of something healthy. This is especially true for older people.

Feast on whole foods!

They might find it hard to go to the store, buy fresh food, and then spend time cooking it. But eating the right foods is really important for them. When they eat food that is nutrient dense, it helps them stay strong, think clearly, and keep their heart healthy.

But, if they eat food that's empty of nutrients, it can lead to problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Food gives our bodies energy, like fuel for a car. But if we eat food that is highly processed, we won't have the necessary vitality for optimal quality of life.

Think of it like this: if a car gets bad gas, it won't run very well. The same goes for our bodies. If older people eat too many fast foods or meals from a box, they might feel tired and sluggish all the time.

It's hard to always eat healthy, and we're not saying that every meal has to be perfect. But, it's a good idea to make small changes. A simple thing like eating one or two less fast food meals each week can help.

At my house, my wife and I like to make a big pot of soup or a chicken salad on Sundays. We eat it during the week, and it's a tasty way to get good things like protein and water.

This can also work great for older family members. By just being a bit more concious about what they eat, we can help them feel better and stay healthy.

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Helping our Elders Make Nutritious Choices

It's not about completely changing your parents' diets all at once. Big changes can be tough for them. Instead, think about having a chat with them about making small changes to eat better.

If you talk about how good food can give them more energy and help them enjoy their hobbies, they might be ready to try a few healthier choices.

Here are 6 key nutrients older folks should have in their diet and why:

  • Protein: As people age, they need more protein than before. It's great for muscles, healing, and staying healthy. You can get protein from things like chicken, eggs, milk, beans, and nuts.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D: These two keep bones strong. Milk, cheese, and green veggies have lots of calcium. For vitamin D, the sun is a great source, and so are fish like salmon.
  • Vitamin B12: This vitamin is all about making healthy blood and keeping nerves working right. You can find B12 in meats, fish, and milk products.
  • Fiber: Eating foods with fiber can help with things like digestion, keeping the heart healthy, and staying at a good weight. Whole grain bread, fruits, veggies, and beans are full of fiber.
  • Potassium: This helps cells work well and keeps the heart beating right. You can find potassium in many fruits, veggies, beans, and dairy products.
  • Omega 3 Fatty acids: These special fats are good for the body. They can keep the heart healthy and lower the chances of getting some sicknesses. Fish like salmon have lots of omega-3s. So do some seeds and nuts.
food for better digestive health

Consequences of Malnutrition

The health risks associated with malnutrition are too detrimental to ignore. Helping our loved ones avoid this state is critical to maintaining health and function within their home. The negative effects of malnutrition include:

  • Weakened Immune System: Malnutrition can lead to a weakened immune system, making the individual more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  • Decreased Muscle Mass and Strength: This can lead to increased frailty and risk of falls and fractures.
  • Poor Wound Healing: When the body is malnourished, it doesn't have the nutrients it needs to repair tissue and heal wounds.
  • Decreased Organ Function: Long-term malnutrition can lead to decreased function in various organs, including the heart and lungs.
  • Increased Risk of Hospitalization: Malnourished individuals often have longer hospital stays and are more at risk for complications.
  • Cognitive Issues: Malnutrition can contribute to cognitive issues like confusion and memory loss.
  • Increased Risk of Mortality: Malnutrition can significantly increase the risk of mortality in older adults.
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As you can see, diet and nutrition affect everything related to quality of life. If you want to improve the quality of life of your parents, have a conversation with them about small changes to their diet.

Also, make sure they are drinking enough water. It is unfortunately quite common for community dwelling older adults to consciously reduce their water intake to reduce frequency of urination.

This may be due to difficulty with mobility, risk of bladder accidents, or “convenience” but whatever the reason it is a bad idea. Poor hydration status increases the risk of many of the above side effects of malnutrition.

Next week, we'll explore another key ingredient to aging gracefully: social interaction and community engagement. Stay tuned to learn how connecting with others can uplift the spirits and enhance well-being in the golden years.

That's all for today.

Take care, keep mom safe and have a great day!


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