It goes without saying that you want your senior parents to stay healthy. Furthermore, it’s a given that much of their staying healthy depends on maintaining a healthy diet. That, however, is the challenge. Wanting your aging parents to have good dietary routines is one thing, but enforcing or encouraging those routines are different practices altogether.
You can’t always be hands-on with your parents’ health, but there are some things you can do to help them follow a healthy diet.
Caring for Parents as They Age
Know what they should eat
The most important step in helping your parents with their diet is educating yourself on healthy eating for seniors. This is a broad topic; there is not a set menu for seniors that makes it easy to track priorities. There are, however, foods the older population can include in their diets more regularly. This includes:
Eating foods that fall into these categories can accomplish a number of healthy objectives. First and foremost, leafy veggies, fresh fruits and whole grains can help to fill out meals without racking up calories. Additionally, lean proteins and moderate consumption of low-fat dairy can help seniors to maintain energy levels and provide proper amounts of nutrients, like vitamin D (for which deficiency is common).
If they’re moving to a facility, assess the food
One common issue with senior nutrition is food quality in care facilities. Seniors who move into these facilities sometimes find the food unappetizing. Fortunately, this is something the industry is aware of, and they’re working to make improvements. Today, it is not uncommon for facilities to advertise their menus and food preparations as highlights to facility living.
If you’re concerned about your parents’ diets, assessing the quality of meals should still be a priority when choosing a facility. This doesn’t mean that a bad meal results in a place being crossed off the list, but you should try to ensure the food is both healthy and appetizing anywhere your parents move. If they don’t like the main offerings, they may wind up eating more snack foods or simply not eating enough.
Speak to administrators about diet plans
Another important step when choosing a senior living facility is speaking with hands-on administrators about forming and enforcing proper diet plans. This way you can work with someone who can monitor the diet and health of your parents on a day-to-day basis.
In years past, people in leadership roles at senior living facilities were primarily thought of as businesspeople, but thanks to a shift in industry expectations and education, these roles have become more specialized. This specialized education helps leadership and staff collaborate with family members to manage care and relate to your parents.
Encouraging exercise sounds at first like it doesn’t relate to diet, but there’s reason to believe that motivating your parents to exercise regularly can play a role in making it easier for them to maintain proper nutrition.
Natalie Butler, a corporate dietitian at Apple, explains in an article about healthy eating for seniors that many seniors get less physical activity, and as a result burn fewer calories. This reduces the need for calories, which means – in some cases – lower appetite. Regular exercise could help seniors maintain their appetites.
You should also do what you can to encourage your parents to maintain adequate hydration throughout the day. It’s well known that we actually lose some of our “thirst sensation” as we grow older; it’s part of the aging process. But this can result quite commonly in dehydration. Additionally, dehydration can be compounded by the fact that seniors tend to lose more liquid through urination. In short, the older we get, the more easily we can become dehydrated.
Without proper hydration, your senior parents will digest their food less effectively, and ultimately get less out of the nutrients they’re meant to be benefiting from. Encouraging adequate water consumption is therefore a key part of this process as well.
It can take a lot of effort, coordination, and perseverance to help your parents stick to healthy diet plans as they age. By educating yourself on proper nutrition, working with healthcare and living facilities, and encouraging good habits, you can help them to maintain proper nutrition and healthy lifestyles.