Elderly Parents Nutrition - Weight Watching for Seniors

Elderly Parents Nutrition - Weight Watching for Seniors

For elderly parents, watching weight is not just a matter of appearance – it can also be closely associated to quality of life, medication control and disease processes. Seniors, of all other age groups, are more at risk for not receiving adequate nutrients because of a variety of factors; inability to cook for themselves, inability to afford quality food and a lack of knowledge about the importance of nutrition as we age.

What Weight Control Means to your Health

As we age, changes occur in our body that affects the way it absorbs nutrients. Many elderly parents are undernourished, though many may be considered obese. Each of these conditions can have a serious impact on health. While some of these individuals suffer from side effects of disease processes and medications, many suffer from complaints that are caused by inadequate nutrition.

Ask five people (parents, caregivers and others) and one of them might know the minimum daily nutrition requirements for adults, but few know the requirements for seniors. Ask the same five people if they know some of the side effects of poor nutrition for the elderly and most can only shrug. Take a look at some basic facts about aging and nutritional needs:

Elderly Nutrition
  • As we age, we dehydrate at a faster rate
  • Iron deficiency is common among older adults due to lack of adequate amounts of food
  • Medications alter the way our bodies absorb nutrients.
  • 50% of the elderly have lost their teeth, which makes eating nutritious foods difficult.
  • Metabolism slows down and calorie needs decrease, but seniors don't make up the difference with nutrient dense foods.
  • Some elderly parents lose their sense of taste and smell and just don't eat.

For seniors, maintaining weight control is more than about looks. It's about how the body reacts and interacts (or doesn't) with vitamins, minerals and medications.

Elderly Nutrition

For example, as we age, the body is unable to absorb as much calcium as it did when we were younger. Hormones change, decrease or cease altogether, increasing loss of calcium through kidneys and causing some individuals to become intolerant of lactose, a type of sugar found in milk.

Because of this, many elderly individuals stop drinking milk because it gives them an upset stomach, which then deprives the body of still much needed calcium needs. Caregivers should know about adequate substitutes for milk that will offer calcium, such as yogurt, buttermilk or acidophilus milk.

Undernourishment in the elderly is a serious problem in the United States. Still, it's tough to encourage a parent to eat who just doesn't have an appetite because your Mom is going through chemotherapy or because your Dad has lost his sense of taste and complains that everything tastes like cardboard.

Medications also take their toll on the body, especially those that cause absorption levels to change. For example, levels of Vitamin D may be raised in the body through the use of estrogen replacement therapies, use of Isoniazids (those used to treat tuberculosis) and Thiazide, a diuretic drug. Diuretics are often prescribed for the elderly to reduce edema (swelling) but they also cause an increase of calcium levels in the blood because of an increased activity of Vitamin D.

By the same token, Vitamin D might be decreased in the body through the use of medications (both over-the-counter and prescribed) such as antacids, calcium-channel blockers, anticonvulsants and cholesterol-lowering medications.

If your elderly parent is on Digoxin, a medication that is commonly used to treat irregular heart rhythms, calcium levels need to be monitored carefully, because increased levels of calcium may create a toxic reaction to this drug.

Another vital vitamin in the body is Vitamin K, responsible for clotting blood and bone health. However, a Vitamin K deficiency may result with the use of blood-thinning medications like warfarin.

What Can Caregivers Do?

Caregivers as well as elderly parents (depending on their cognitive levels) need to be educated (call your medical professional or certified nutritionist before starting or modifying current activities) and made aware of the importance of adequate diet and weight control when taking various medications or while undergoing treatment for disease processes.

At the very least, maintaining a healthy weight will help seniors to maintain activity levels that promote independence and mobility. If your elderly parent does not seem to understand the importance of proper nutrition, sit down and show him or her recommended daily intakes suggested for their age group. Stress to your parent the need for adequate nutrients to help fight disease, malnutrition and disease processes that prey on a weakened immune system, one of the first signs of an inadequate diet.

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