By Julie Fries, RN, Valley VNA Client Care Coordinator for In-Home Care Clients

When an older person does not get the proper amount of nutrition or hydration, many times his or her symptoms can be mistaken for a disease or illness. As our bodies age, our approach to cooking, eating, and socializing over meals can change drastically. Unless we pay special attention to the shifting needs of our loved ones, we may assume it’s “business as usual” and miss an opportunity to be proactive and supportive. Consider these changes that affect nutrition and hydration in older people:
Taste buds decrease as we age, as does our taste for salty and sweet. This can make food taste bitter or sour.

  1. Taste buds decrease as we age, as does our taste for salty and sweet. This can make food taste bitter or sour.
  2. The loss of smell makes food less appealing and can lead to poor food choices.
  3. Diminished or loss of hearing makes it hard to hold a conversation during a meal and can limit a person’s enjoyment of an otherwise social experience.
  4. Dentition, which is the make-up of a set of teeth (how many, their arrangement, and their condition), and how well dentures fit, can cause people to avoid crunchy or chewy foods.
  5. Gastrointestinal changes such as constipation and gas may cause older people to avoid fruits and vegetables.
  6. Older people experience an increasing disassociation between how hydrated their bodies are and how thirsty they feel because of changes in the hypothalamus portion of their brain. Coupled with medications or diseases that increase a person’s fluid needs, it’s no wonder that elderly dehydration is one of the ten most frequent admitting diagnoses for Medicare hospitalizations.
  7. As we age, our bodies lose kidney function and are less able to conserve fluid—this condition often becomes acute after age 70. Keeping hydrated helps kidneys work better, cognition remain clearer, and medications get better absorbed. Coffee, tea, soups, popsicles, and juicy fruits and vegetables all contribute to a person’s healthy hydration.

What’s Missing from Mom’s Diet?

If mom or grandma eats like a bird, know that she does require fewer calories than her younger self. However, she needs more protein to retain muscles mass, dental health, and a healthy immune system. Other common nutrient deficiencies in the elderly result from inadequate intake of vitamin A, B, C, D, E, folic acid and niacin.
It comes as no surprise that social and economic factors also affect how a person shops, cooks and eats. Loneliness, especially after the loss of a spouse, causes a person to lose interest in cooking or learning to cook. Fear of falling or hurting one’s self can prevent regular trips to the grocery store or use of a hot stove or oven. Financial concerns, including medical and prescription medication costs, may cause an older person to skimp on meals.

What Should Older People Eat & Drink?

The USDA food patterns suggest that people 50 or older choose healthy foods every day from the following:

  • Fruits — 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups

What is the same as 1/2 cup of cut-up fruit? A 2-inch peach or 1/4 cup of dried fruit

  • Vegetables — 2 to 3-1/2 cups

What is the same as a cup of cut-up vegetables? Two cups of uncooked leafy vegetable.

  • Grains — 5 to 10 ounces

What is the same as an ounce of grains? A small muffin, a slice of bread, a cup of flaked, ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta

  • Protein foods — 5 to 7 ounces

What is the same as an ounce of meat, fish, or poultry? One egg, ¼ cup of cooked beans or tofu, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds, or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

  • Dairy foods — 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk

What is the same as 1 cup of milk? One cup of yogurt or 1-1/2 to 2 ounces of cheese. One cup of cottage cheese is the same as ½ cup of milk.

  • Oils — 5 to 8 teaspoons

What is the same as oil added during cooking? Foods like olives, nuts, and avocado have a lot of oil in them.

  • Solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) — keep the amount of SoFAS small

If you eat too many foods containing SoFAS, you will not have enough calories for the nutritious foods you should be eating. Examples are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter, shortening, lard, and stick margarine and added “empty calories” like high fructose corn syrup.

senior malnutrition

Senior Nutrition
by A Place for

At Valley VNA, we have programs in place to help ensure good hydration and good nutrition for our in-home clients and our independent and assisted living residents.

Meals-On-Wheels is administered by Valley VNA with meal prep by the dietary staff at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah and delivery by volunteers of the Neenah-Menasha Emergency Society.

In-Home caregivers help our clients with grocery shopping, and basic meal prep.

Assisted living residents at Valley VNA are part of a documented hydration program. Intake goals are set based on a person’s weight and other factors, and average weekly fluid intake is tracked

Independent and assisted living residents can choose from multiple types of meals plans where they join their neighbors for delicious and nutritious meals in our dining room .

To learn more about Meals on Wheels, in-home care, or our residence, please call us at (920) 727-5555.