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Growing up, you may remember your father being a big eater, a meat-and-potatoes guy. But now that he's approaching his 80s, he has a hard time remembering what his last square meal was. Or, now that your aging mother is living on her own, she doesn’t like to prepare meals for herself - it's not worth the bother, she says.
But good nutrition is always worth the effort, says Brenda Danner, a registered dietitian at Franciscan Health. The eating habits of older adults, however, may be impacted by several things.
"As we age, our metabolism and sense of taste will change," she said. "Foods we once enjoyed may taste differently. Chronic health conditions and some medications also may alter appetite and sense of taste. Chewing may be an issue, too, due to missing teeth or ill-fitting dental work."
Living alone also is a risk for poor nutrition. A study by Home Instead, Inc., found that two of every five adults age 75 and older who live alone show at least four signs of poor nutrition.
Eat Well, Age Well
While limited budgets may be a barrier to properly stocking their pantry shelves and refrigerator, poor nutrition is costly, too. The Alliance for Aging Research estimates the increased annual health care costs for disease-related malnutrition in older adults is more than $51 billion.
If you worry about an older loved one’s eating habits, there are many ways you can help. "First, assess your loved one's situation," said Danner. "Talk to him or her about eating habits, about skipped meals, about what makes preparing meals difficult. Check with the doctor to see if any prescribed medications may be affecting appetite. Your loved one's dentist may also be able to identify any dental issues that are making eating uncomfortable."
Helping a Senior Adult
Clean out the refrigerator to make seeing and prepping healthy foods easier.
Stock and encourage high-protein choices. Adults usually need 46 to 56 grams of protein per day, but some experts recommend as much as 70. Check with the doctor for a recommended amount for your loved one. Protein boosts the immune system and helps slow muscle loss and weakness. Greek yogurt packs between 12 to 17 grams of protein per serving, is rich in calcium, and is easy to eat. Hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, tuna and cheese are also handy, no-prep, high-protein choices.
Find tasty fruit and vegetable choices. Honor your loved one's preferences, but encourage her to keep fresh and frozen options in the house. Some people find canned fruits and vegetables easier to eat, so find low-sugar and low-salt options.
Make whole grains easy. Buy packets of cooked brown rice, and prepare oatmeal cups ahead of time in portable, ready-to-snack form.
Consider supplemental drinks, but only as snacks, not to replace any meals.
Make mealtime a social event. Seniors usually eat more with friends and family. When dining out, however, avoid restaurants with oversized portions, which can be a turn-off.
If shopping is a challenge, consider delivery service, online ordering or grocery "pick up" options.
Consider a meal delivery service if meal preparation is a challenge. Contact mealsonwheels.org about service options.