Nutrition with Elderly Residents


As we get older, our nutrition needs can change, thanks to a decrease in muscle mass and often a decrease in activity too. This not does mean that an elderly person no longer needs to care about their food intake, as so many do, and think that they can comfortably get by on toast and sandwiches. In fact, some diet elements are even more important at an advanced age than before, such as steady supplementation of vitamin D.

However, when someone moves into an elderly care home, food and nutrition can become something which needs monitoring. This is particularly the case if physical or mental needs preclude the resident from taking responsibility for their own meals anymore.

There is sometimes a focus on ‘industrial’ food provided by bad care homes, but the most outstanding care home could provide the most high-quality and delicious meals, but if the resident can’t eat them, that is irrelevant. It is a question of residents, families and staff working together.

For example, residents with problems such as Parkinson’s disease or arthritis might not be able to effectively use cutlery by themselves, necessitating someone to sit and feed them. This could be embarrassing if not managed sensitively and may make the resident not want to eat in public.

Most elderly people, regardless of their state of health, can find it more difficult to swallow food as they age. The medical term for this is dysphagia, and a study of USA elderly people suggested that 15% of the elderly population is affected, with rates on the rise.

This condition can lead to coughing, choking and aspiration pneumonia, where food ends up in the lungs. This is understandably worrying for the affected resident and may put them off eating certain types of food.

Research on elderly people’s mental problems with getting enough nutrition is largely focused on the problems of dementia patients, but it is important to remember that care home residents with conditions such as autism or Down’s Syndrome may also have issues such as reacting to change by stopping eating, or not being able to communicate their food likes and dislikes.

Hydration is a known issue in dementia care, since people with dementia may be unable to communicate or recognise that they are thirsty, or they may forget to drink from the glass you give them. Making sure that the care home staff are aware of the dementia patient’s likes and dislikes will be helpful in convincing them to increase their drinking. Any liquid is better than no liquid; tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, soup and even ice-cream or high-water vegetables all count!

In terms of food, dementia patients can become uncoordinated and forgetful and suffer much the same problems and related embarrassment regarding things like cutlery as those with physical problems. The Alzheimer’s Society has some great tips to help carers get enough nutrition into the person with dementia, including providing snacks throughout the day rather than the pressure of three comparatively large meals and offering easy finger foods.

 

Resources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426263/

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/eating-drinking