Elderly Meal Planning and Preparation: What Every Caregiver Needs to Know

Elderly Meal Planning
Meal planning is important for every stage of life – including the senior years.
Image credit: Flickr user Ulrich Joho

If you’re in the position of being a caregiver — either professionally or because you’re helping an elderly loved one — meal planning and preparation are likely two of your most important tasks. They’re also some of the most time-consuming, along with house-cleaning, bill-paying, arranging doctors’ appointments, and other responsibilities. But what are the essentials you need to know about getting your senior the proper nutrition? Read on to find out.

Check with the doctor

First things first – check with your elder’s physician to see if there’s any particular diet they recommend. You don’t want to come home with sugar-filled groceries for your loved one only to learn their diabetes makes such foods impractical. Also, certain foods interact poorly with certain medications, such as grapefruit and Levothyroxine (the generic for Synthyroid), a commonly-prescribed drug for hypothyroidism. Your elder may not have to forego certain foods altogether, but may have to time them properly so they’re not ingesting foods that interfere with a drug’s efficacy.

Assess your elder’s needs

There are appropriate diets for every state of life, and the senior years are no different. Just as you do not have the same needs now that you did as an infant, you’ll require different foods in different proportions as you age. In the later years, bones often become more brittle, necessitating extra calcium. Likewise, the body often loses its ability to absorb B12, leading to the need for supplements, or adding foods rich in this vitamin. And although it’s not always a pleasant topic to talk about, constipation is a frequent complaint among the elderly! Decreased appetite, limited fluid intake, and lack of physical activity are some of the most common causes, so fiber-filled foods or supplements can be helpful. But again, always check with your elder’s physician before adding any vitamins, minerals, or supplements to their diet.

Re-assess as time goes by

Just as it’s important to initially assess your elder’s meal planning and preparation needs, you must also re-assess them on a regular basis. Of course, this must be done after major changes, such as a heart attack, stroke, hospital stay, fall, or any other major health event. But it’s also good to reevaluate things simply because time is passing, or to see what’s working and what’s not. For instance, many seniors find they have difficulty keeping weight on, even if they were a normal weight (or overweight) their entire adult lives. If enticing foods and supplemental shakes aren’t working, different steps might need to be taken, such as looking into medications that increase appetite.

Plan for the finicky eaters

When it comes to meal planning and preparation for the elderly, caregivers often list “finicky eater” as one of their top challenges. Many assume their loved ones are being difficult on purpose, but this isn’t always the case. As we age, we may experience changes in taste perception. What once tasted good simply doesn’t anymore, or nothing seems appetizing at all. Providing foods that are nutritious yet high in calories, or heavily seasoned, can make them more appealing. Serving multiple smaller meals instead of larger, more infrequent ones can also stoke the appetite and help get in all the nourishment the elder needs for the day. Bear in mind that depression can also make elders lose interest in food, so watch for changes in mood and behavior.

Consult an expert about elderly meal planning and preparation

Sometimes, a physician is not enough when it comes to meal planning and preparation advice for your senior. Although you should still have a doctor’s recommendation on hand, don’t be afraid to visit other professionals, such as registered dieticians. They can offer you even more specific tips on the best feeding methods for your elder, especially if they’re a finicky eater. The good news is that when it comes to feeding your senior, you’re not alone. There are a host of helpful and eager experts more than willing to offer their assistance, so talk to one today!

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

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