Eating a balanced, nutritious diet is important for maintaining health, especially as people age.
Caregivers can help by observing what, when, and how much their care receivers eat. Are they eating enough or too much? How much food is processed versus fresh food? Frequently, caregivers don’t think they have the time to add cooking to their caregiving responsibilities, but adding fruit and fresh vegetables can make a difference.
Fruits, nuts, vegetables, and fish are known to be healthy foods. Although studies are ongoing, some suggest a diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods may reduce age-related cognitive decline and the risk of developing various diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
The health of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, is improved by good nutrition and some form of exercise. Because everyone is different, older adults need to ask their physician what is best for them. An appointment with a dietician can make a big difference in helping older adults understand the importance of good nutrition. A nutritionist can also provide some tips for improving nutrition through better eating habits.
Nutrition Tips for Ages 60+, according to the US Agriculture My Plate program.
Eating habits change throughout life. Simple changes can help someone enjoy foods and beverages to meet nutrient needs, help maintain a healthy body weight, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Why does food not taste and good and I want to add more salt that I know is not good for me? As we get older, taste buds start to disappear from the sides and roof of the mouth. This may result in duller taste sensations. Taste buds can also be affected by other factors, such as medications. Try using more herbs, such as parsley or oregano. Beware of overly processed no sodium seasonings by reading the label.
- Try adding seafood, dairy or fortified soy alternatives, along with beans, peas and lentils to meals to help maintain muscle mass. As a caregiver, encourage your care receiver to try different foods that they might like.
- Add fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks. Look for frozen, canned, or ready-to-eat varieties if slicing and chopping is a hard for an older adult to do or the caregiver has limited time.
- Bananas are often recommended for those taking diuretics.
- Applesauce without sugar is better than regular applesauce Refer to the Harvard School of Public Health for a list of Not listed is Stevia, an herb derived sweetener. Read about it.
For most people, meals are more enjoyable when you eat with others. Make eating a social event, instead of eating alone in front of the television or on a tablet with no people to talk to. Your care receiver can enjoy a meal much as they would in a restaurant.
- Invite a friend.
- Call someone.
- Use video teleconferencing like Zoom, or video chat like FaceTime.
- A community center or place of worship may offer meals that are shared with others. As the caregiver, maybe you could help find an existing group which does potluck meals such as in a church or senior center. COVID restrictions will limit these.
- Meals on Wheels may provide at least contact with someone, although these volunteers don’t stay when they deliver a nutritious meal.
- The ability to absorb vitamin B12 can decrease with age and the use of certain medications can decrease absorption. Eating enough protein and fortified foods, such as fortified cereals, can help you meet your vitamin B12 needs. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine what, if any, supplementation can be taken.
- If the older person uses or is considering taking dietary supplements, it’s important to track and discuss all dietary supplements with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you. This includes beverage supplements, which can be a source of added sugars. To help track supplement and medicine use, use one of these logs.
Dieticians – How do you pay for a dietician?
Could Medicare or other insurance cover a session with a dietician? A patient may ask a doctor for a referral to a Registered Dietitian. Most dieticians work in hospitals and clinics. A resource is Find a Nutrition Professional at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Try calling medical out-patient clinics or local hospitals and ask about options to talk to a dietician.
Medicare Coverage for a Nutritionist
Medicare Part B coverage provides medical nutrition therapy (MNT) under certain circumstances and through qualifying health care professionals. Only certain medical conditions meet the requirement of MNT being medically necessary when prescribed by a doctor. These conditions include diabetes, kidney disease and kidney transplants that have occurred within the last 36 months before nutritional therapy is ordered.
Registered dietitians or any nutritional health care professional who satisfies Medicare’s requirements in your state may assess your current dietary habits and evaluate your ongoing needs. You may receive services as an individual or in a group setting.
Edited by Zanda Hilger, M. Ed., LPC
Sources: US Department of Agriculture My Plate, Mayo Clinic, Harvard School of Public Health, WebMd, National Institute of Health, Family Caregivers Online (this site), Academy of Nutrition and Dieticians, Medicare.gov
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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