A recent study reported that two out of every five Americans over the age of 75 who lives alone shows four or more signs of poor nutrition (Source). Americans nationwide are struggling to eat healthy, and older Americans are no exception. Many cite the problem of living alone and not knowing how to cook for one. Between 35 and 50% of older members of long-term care facilities are malnourished, in addition to 65% of older patients in hospitals (Source). This can seriously hinder their quality of life and make existing conditions worse, as well as extend healing times.
Luckily, there are easy ways to make sure a loved one is eating well and creating good dietary habits:
Make meals a social activity. Having a more social atmosphere allows people to enjoy their meals and means you are more likely to eat better. A few ways to make eating a group activity include: Making dates with family, neighbors, and friends on a regular basis, joining senior meal programs (contact the local senior center, YMCA, or congregation to ask if they are offered), and adult day care centers, which offer nutritious meals with company for seniors (Source).
Research your loved one’s personal nutrition needs. The USDA has many guidelines available for seniors based on age and activity level, including a calorie recommendation list.
Aim to add more fruits and vegetables to meals. These food groups are packed with vitamins and minerals that the body needs, and dark, leafy greens add in calcium, which can be especially beneficial to adults with osteoporosis.
Drink water! It is a simple way to improve the functioning of the body, but many older adults neglect to drink as much as they should. As people age, they become more prone to dehydration as the body loses some of its ability to regulate fluid levels and does not trigger the feeling of thirst as much as it should. Encourage a loved one to drink water with every meal and every hour to ensure that they are getting enough fluids.
Avoid skipping meals, which causes the metabolism to slow down and leads to making poorer food choices as the day goes on.
Replace “convenience foods,” which are processed and often not nutritious, with fresh foods that are easy to prepare or snack on, such as yogurt, fruit, oatmeal, and eggs (Source). Be sure your loved one has access to a grocery store and nutritious food. Teach them how to make the most of their trip and pick out the best foods by shopping the perimeter of the supermarket rather than the aisles. If they cannot get there on their own, arrange for a ride or for Meals on Wheels to assist them.
Eating does not have to be a chore. Mealtimes with friends, cooking with new foods, and adding more healthful options can make a big difference in the health and happiness of an older adult. For more information on eating healthy and making good dietary decisions, reference the Dietary Guidelines for Americans released by the USDA.