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The Age Factor: Changes in Nutritional Needs for Seniors

Lots of different factors make it difficult for seniors to eat healthy. Changing taste buds, medication side effects, and a lack of interest in cooking for just two people are all reasons that play a role. On top of that Seniors have different nutritional needs than younger people. Eating well is important at any age, but even more necessary for seniors because nutritional needs change as we age.

According to Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born, a licensed naturopathic physician, 3.7 million seniors are malnourished in America today. Dr. Jones-Born provides some great insight into why seniors have different nutritional needs:

How Do Our Bodies Change As We Age?

There are many reasons our bodies change as we get older, including physiological, perceptual and and general age-related conditions—such as gastrointestinal or dental conditions. These changes all influence the performance of our body as a whole, which in turn, influences our eating, nutritional intake and overall health.

Physiological Changes 

One reason nutritional needs change is due to physiological changes that occur later in life.  Energy expenditure generally decreases with advancing age because of a decrease in basal metabolic rate and physical activity, thus decreasing our caloric needs. Our bodies also begin to experience a decrease in kidney function, re-distribution of body composition and changes in our nervous system.

Perceptual Changes 

Perceptual changes later in life can also influence our nutrition, such as changes in hearing, taste, smell and vision.  One of the most common complaints is in regards to the diminished taste in food. As taste buds decrease, so does our taste for salty and sweet—often times making food taste more bitter or sour. Diminished or loss of hearing also affects our nutrition and food experience.  The difficulty and frustration from the inability to hold a conversation with our eating partner out at a restaurant or at a social function can limit one’s food experience.  And the loss of smell can also have a huge impact on the types of food one chooses to eat as there is a loss of satisfaction that can lead to poor food choices.

Other Aging-Related Changes 

Other changes in body function may impact nutritional intake, such as dentition, or the makeup of a set of teeth (including how many, their arrangement and their condition). The loss of teeth and/or ill-fitting dentures can lead to avoidance of hard and sticky foods. Gastrointestinal changes such as chronic gastritis, delayed stomach emptying, constipation and gas may lead to avoiding healthy foods, such a fruits and vegetables—the food categories that should be more emphasized rather than eliminated.

These factors alone may contribute to why 3.7 million seniors are malnourished and shed light on the importance of educating caregivers and aging seniors as to specific dietary need options, as well as, catered senior diets and nutritional needs.

Senior Citizens, Malnutrition—And  Vitamin Deficiencies

Malnutrition is seen in varying degrees in the elderly, along with varying vitamin deficiencies.  Malnutrition is due to under nutrition, nutrient deficiencies or imbalances. Most physicians do not see frank malnutrition anymore, such as scurvy; but more milder malnutrition symptoms such as loss of appetite, weight loss/gain, general malaise or lack of overall interest and wellness. Common nutrient deficiencies of dietary origin include inadequate intake of vitamin A, B, C, D, E, folic acid and niacin.  Malnutrition may also be the result of some socioeconomic risk factors, such as the following:

  • Loss of a spouse or family member
  • Lack of interest in cooking or eating alone
  • Fear of personal safety (which affects their ability to go grocery shopping)
  • Financial concerns
  • Institutionalization or hospitalizations (that do not ensure adequate nutrition)

Clearly nutrition plays a vital role in the quality of life in older persons. This is why preventative medicine and focusing on good eating habits is crucial. It is recommended to follow a preventative health maintenance nutritional program, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which describes two eating plans.

  1. The USDA food patterns
  2. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan

*DASH is a lot like the Food Patterns, but focuses on lowering blood pressure.

The USDA food patterns suggests that people 50 or older choose healthy foods every day from the following:

  • Fruits—1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups
    What is the same as 1/2 cup of cut-up fruit? A 2-inch peach or 1/4 cup of dried fruit
  • Vegetables—2 to 3-1/2 cups
    What is the same as a cup of cut-up vegetables? Two cups of uncooked leafy vegetable
  • Grains—5 to 10 ounces
    What is the same as an ounce of grains? A small muffin, a slice of bread, a cup of flaked, ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta
  • Protein foods—5 to 7 ounces
    What is the same as an ounce of meat, fish, or poultry? One egg, ¼ cup of cooked beans or tofu, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds, or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • Dairy foods—3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk
    What is the same as 1 cup of milk? One cup of yogurt or 1-1/2 to 2 ounces of cheese. One cup of cottage cheese is the same as ½ cup of milk.
  • Oils—5 to 8 teaspoons
    What is the same as oil added during cooking? Foods like olives, nuts, and avocado have a lot of oil in them.
  • Solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS)—keep the amount of SoFAS small 
    If you eat too many foods containing SoFAS, you will not have enough calories for the nutritious foods you should be eating.
Learn more about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services DASH eating plan to decide whether it’s right for you or a loved one.

Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born, Naturopathic Physician

About the Author:

Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born is a licensed naturopathic physician in California and Connecticut, and is an active member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Born Naturopathic Associates, Inc. is the prime location in Alameda, CA for integrative medical care for patients off all ages and genders, for acute and chronic conditions. 


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Resolutions for Seniors

new-year-resolution-c-carousel

Christmas is behind us, New Year’s is ahead!  Which means it’s just about time to come up with new resolutions.  But what to resolve yourself for?  Different things are important to different people!  If you’re heavier than you’d like, your biggest resolution may be to lose weight.  If you want to be more intellectually stimulated this year, you might resolve to read a book a month.  What if you’re elderly or infirm, though?  What kinds of resolution can you make to stay positive and healthy and happy?  A few years ago, a retired teacher and widower named Mary Carol Herwood from the Buffalo, NY area wrote a great article to that effect for Yahoo!  Sure, it was for New Year’s 2010, not 2014, but things haven’t changed that much in four years, and she really did have some great suggestions.  She writes regularly for Yahoo!, including some great movie reviews, so you should definitely check out some of her other content.  But for this time of year, this is the article we’re interested in.  We can’t put the whole article here, you’ll have to read it on Yahoo!, but here’s our favorite of her suggestions to get you started!

“I will make plans more often to call a friend to take in a play or a movie, stop for a bite to eat and chit-chat about this and that.”

This one is our absolute favorite, as maintaining friendships and connections with others into old age is, in many ways, one of the absolute most important things to an elderly person’s continued well-being.  It can be very easy to fall into the trap of letting this part of your life go as you age, as family and health issues take up more and more of your time, but the elderly are just as in need of companionship, friendship and fun as any of us!

“I will read at least one book each month.”

Reading is a wonderfully effective and fun way to keep one’s mind sharp, and has also been proven to be an excellent deterrent to the development of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease.

“I will not make any New Year’s Resolutions in 2010.”

Replace “2010” for “2014” here, but the point stands.  If you feel happy and satisfied with everything in your life, then mission accomplished!  So what better resolution to make than to have no resolutions to make next year?

Read the entire article HERE, and a happy early 2014!


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Extemely Unusual Christmas Trees

Just one week until Christmas, so let’s have a little fun!  Everyone tries to have fun with their Christmas trees when they decorate them.  We know someone who decorates their tree with only white lights, bulbs, and Hallmark Star Trek and Star Wars spaceships, so it looks like a science fiction space scene!  But what about people who want to go even further, and just make something 100% unique?  This gallery is for them!


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Christmas Shopping for the Elderly

Buying gifts for your elders is never easy.  Odds are, your tastes are quite different than theirs, they may not be able to use some gifts because of health issues you’re unaware of, and what might seem like a great present to you might be completely inappropriate to them!  To help you out in this fun but sometimes stressful time of year, we’ve compiled a bunch of articles that we’ve found that are just packed with great gift ideas for the elderly in your life.

Gifts

12 Christmas Gift Ideas for Retirees

EXAMPLE: Dance lessons. These offer an opportunity for great exercise and great fun. Your recipient will also meet new people, and for married couples, it’s a wonderful way to rekindle the romance. (Husbands: Get the hint! This works better than jewelry, and it’s a lot cheaper. I can personally attest to the success of this gift.) Dancing is also rated highly as an activity to keep you mentally sharp in your later years.

Top 10 Holiday Gifts for the Senior in Your Life

EXAMPLE: Smartphone — Phones are not only important for keeping the social connection—a necessary ingredient for quality of life—but also are crucial for senior safety. Many smartphones of today offer large buttons, photo speed dial, visual rings and more.

Gift Ideas for the Elderly

EXAMPLE: Tickets to Performances  For elderly people on fixed incomes, tickets to films, live theater, and concerts are often beyond their reach. A gift of tickets, especially to see a favorite actor, play, or performer, is often a special gift. Gift cards in multiple denominations for movies can be purchased from Fandango ‎ and directly from many movie chains. Tickets for current theater and concert offerings can be purchased from Ticket Master.

8 Christmas Gift Ideas for Elderly Parents or Grandparents

EXAMPLE: A memory quilt  Creating a quilt out of baby clothes, army uniforms (if your grandparent or dad served in the military), wedding dresses, and other unique clothes or heirlooms is a very special gift. Quilts are practical and meaningful Christmas gift ideas for grandparents or elderly parents, especially if you make it yourself – or you make it with them!

Unique Christmas Gift Ideas for the Elderly

EXAMPLE: Hire a maid: One of the things you can do for the elderly one this Christmas is to hire a maid to look after them, this maybe for a short while but it would surely mean a lot to them, and in the case where you can afford it why not engage the services of a nurse to cater to the old one, especially this period of Christmas celebration. There are maids you can hire for few days just to look after your old ones.

10 Holiday Gift Ideas for Nursing Home Residents & Elderly Seniors

EXAMPLE: Terrarium  Flowers die, and a houseplant can require frequent tending. A terrarium, however, makes a lovely, elegant gift. With its own tiny ecosystem and landscape, it’s an unusual gift that will be treasured and, if made correctly, requires minimal (if any) care. They’re typically available at florists and can also be purchased online (e.g. Gothic House Terrarium with Live Plants). Or, if you have the time, make your own.


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Happy Holidays from Just Like Family

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and Christmas and New Year’s are just around the corner!  It’s one of our favorite times of year, full of family, friends, food and happy memories.  So, from our family to yours, we have just one thing to say:

Happy Holidays!Happy holidays, everyone!


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The Age-Friendly Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving nearly here, we wanted to share this lovely set of tips for hosting an all-ages-inclusive Thanksgiving dinner that we found floating on the Internet.  They were originally posted here on the eCaring blog, and were written last year by Melody Wilding.  Remember, it can be hectic to work out getting family from far flung locations together in one place, preparing an enormous meal, and making sure everyone is comfortable and having fun, especially the elderly or infirm members of the family.  We want you to have all the help you can get!

Woman with turkey

Tips for Hosting an Age-friendly Thanksgiving Dinner

By: Melody Wilding

Between coordinating travel plans, cooking, cleaning, and throwing a cast of personalities into one room, anxieties can run high around Turkey Day. If you are entertaining a mixed age group this year, respecting the eldest guests should also be high on your list.

How can you host a Thanksgiving dinner that accommodates the unique health and physical needs of elderly relatives and friends? Creating an age-friendly Thanksgiving dinner is simple with some forethought, planning, and communication.

Here are ways to ensure it is a happy holiday meal for young and old alike:

  • Be mindful of seating arrangements – If your aging parent or grandparent has physical limitations, seat him or hear at the end of the table, providing ample room to get up easily and more often without disrupting others.
  • Review the floor plan – Run through your home’s layout to make sure it is safe and free of any hazards that could cause a fall. Add additional lighting, secure carpets, and reduce any clutter in walkways. If your elderly loved one has a walker, wheelchair, or medical equipment (such as an oxygen tank), ensure that passageways have enough room to accommodate. Going out for dinner? Visit the restaurant beforehand to see if there are many stairs, tight spaces, or other conditions that would make it difficult for your aging relative to navigate safely.
  • Ask about dietary requirements – Begin planning your dinner menu in advance by asking your loved one and consulting his or her medical provider for dietary guidelines. For diabetics or persons with chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, special diets such as low salt, low sugar, or low fat must be adhered to. If your loved one has suffered a stroke or otherwise has trouble swallowing, consider including a soft food dish in your menu.
  • Strike up conversation – Do not make the mistake of making your loved one feel invisible at Thanksgiving dinnertime. Many falsely assume that seniors are cranky and uninterested in chatting. However, the communal, family-feel of Thanksgiving is the perfect time for aging loved ones to share stories and lessons. As host, help encourage intergenerational communication by making children, teens, and older adults comfortable and meaningful, rather than awkward.
  • Enlist help – Consider hiring in-home respite care services to support caregiving duties around Thanksgiving crunch-time. This person can provide assistance with personal care, such as feeding, as well as companionship and stimulation. If your aging parent of grandparent has a home health aide, invite the caregiver to share dinner with you. Knowing your loved one has the help they need within range will bring comfort and peace of mind.
  • Acknowledge the person’s pace – Persons with dementia become uncomfortable and fearful in situations filled with noise and action. If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, find a peaceful place him or her to rest before the event begins to help ease the transition. Keep the volume of music and conversation even and fairly low. If being around many people or at a restaurant is too stressful of physically impossible, improvise! Plan family visits throughout the day to cover all meals shifts – breakfast, lunch, or dinner – or ask small groups of family members to visit with the person on alternate days before or after the Thanksgiving holiday.