Blending Nutrition with Elderly Care
By Priyangwada Perera Ceylon Today Features
In the Asian region, records show that Sri Lanka is one of the fastest ageing communities. This will result in the country having more elderly people in near future than youth. Where nutrition is concerned, we tend to think that growing children are the priority and thus, we often forget the requirements of elderly people. However, maintaining their nutritional status and good health are extremely important to the well-being of the elderly. Both elderly care and their nutrition can become quite a challenge.
Nutrition is essential throughout life. Dr. Senani Ranaweera, an expertise in Medical Nutrition notes that especially when people age, we tend to get non-communicable diseases and chronic diseases. With all this, there is a high risk of becoming malnourished which further contributes to the general debility that comes with age. Hence, It is important that they maintain nutritional status or good health on a daily basis. Balanced meals are very important.
Generally, it is believed that elderly are not active. There is also the conception that the elderly do not eat much because they lose appetite. But that is a misconception. “We must remember that along with ageing, the ageing of organs also takes place. There can be some sort of failure in the organs with ageing. But this should not be a cause for their malnutrition. With ageing, many changes take place in a person. One such thing is the loss of sensitivity to taste. A taste alteration takes place. They may need sharper or stronger things taste. They would not like bland food. On top of it, some oral changes also takes place. There might be loose teeth, loose fitting dentures, swallowing and chewing difficulties also contribute to their reduced food intake,” said Dr. Ranaweera. Any other conditions like liver problems, chronic kidney diseases, food restrictions due to diabetes or high cholesterol, might aggravate the situation. Low salt, less sugar food can further reduce their desire to eat. Low food intake causes malnutrition.
Dr. Ranaweera said, with organ systems failing due to age, even if they eat there might be digestion issues. If the food is not digested and absorbed in the proper way, there is a high chance of malnourishment.
Dr. Ranaweera said, “If you have an elderly family member not taking food and as a result, losing weight and so on there is a high chance of malnourishment. He/she loses his muscle mass, has a deficiency with nutrients like Vitamin D, Calcium, other vitamins and minerals.”
Do it at home
To prevent malnourishment in the elderly, there are many things that can be done by us at home itself. Instead of giving highly salted food for someone who has high blood pressure, we can make the dishes tastier by adding herbs and lime. That will give an appealing smell and enhance the taste. Which in turn will increase their appetite.
“Elderly people may not eat three big meals on a daily basis. They can be given frequent meals of less quantity. The three main meals can be covered with high energy, high nutritious food. If they have not taken an adequate breakfast, we can give them an omelette or a local cereal at tea time. Instead of plain tea and biscuit this will add better nutrients. If there is no chewing difficulty, they can be given all sorts of nuts. The other option is fruit, which is very nourishing. To increase both the food intake and the nutrients, this is the ideal,” said Dr. Ranaweera.
Not many people know that a lot of money is not needed to eat healthy. Where our lifestyles have changed, so have our food habits. Many do not have time to cook. In their rush, most people opt to eat out. But healthy meals are home cooked. Eating out should be minimised. There are some simple but delicious dishes that can be prepared easily at home in no time. You can replace your shop-bought snack with some lentils. Or else you can opt for a raw vegetable salad. One need not stick to cucumber, carrot and tomato. There are many others that we can eat raw. Green leaves can be added. However, one must try to avoid the salad dressings that come in the form of sauce where salads are made. There is a lot of fat and salt in such dressings. Some are with added sugar.
Lime and herbs like mint or coriander leaves can enhance the taste to a new level. Preparing such dishes is not time consuming. A lot of our local vegetables and green leaves are available in plenty.
Salads are an option, tempered lentils for more taste. For elderly people, replace chocolate and sweets with home-made puddings that have egg and milk. Dried fruit and nuts can minimise the sugar. Any fruit without added sugar will do the same. Soup and herbal porridge (kola kenda) also come as a healthy option.
“With age, they lose their muscle power and become weak. To maintain their strength of muscles and bones, apart from nutrition, exercise is important. These exercises need not be running and jogging done by young people.” Dr. Ranaweera added, “Whatever the speed, if they can walk for 20-30 minutes daily that would help. Those who cannot walk or jog, even sitting on the chair with their backs straight back and lifting their legs up, lying down in bed and raising their legs and hands is also good. If one can continue without having to suffer back pain, this really works. This will help them maintain their ability to do their daily chores by themselves.”
The next piece of advice was “Encourage the elderly to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible. Do not insist on doing everything for them. Let them wash and dress themselves where it is possible. Or else they will not move around. Their function will be further impaired.
At all times opt for a healthy balanced diet that includes an adequate amount of protein. Most of our elderly people refuse to eat fish, meat and egg. They even refuse milk. Protein consumption is very important.
Where they lack calcium, a fall may cause fractures. This could be a hip fracture or otherwise with a potential to make them bed ridden. Avoid that at all times,” Dr. Ranaweera noted. It is important to have food rich in calcium. Small fish, sprats can come handy. Adequate calories and energy, and protein are essential. Where you take a healthy and balanced diet all this is eventually included.
Healthy diet with healthy lifestyle is the key to improving one’s quality of life. It is even more important to keep an eye on often neglected elderly care and nutrition.