Nutrition and the Elderly - LinkedIn Pulse Article. (See it on LinkedIn)
photo: B. St.Pierre Studio
We’re living longer, but are we living well?
Part One; The importance of nutrition for the elderly.
Published on May 23, 2018 by Bonnie St.Pierre, copywriter and photographer
Living into our late eighties or nineties, but in a weakened and infirm state, fully reliant on medications and the assistance of others, is not anyone's idea of a good quality of life. I think we can all agree that we wouldn't want to live that long if we were not well, were in constant pain, or if we were dependent on others for the most basic of daily care and activities. If every new day brought nothing but emotional or physical misery because of our inability to move ourselves around freely or take part in the things that we enjoy, there would be no reason to want to continue on.
That, unfortunately, becomes the fate of many individuals later in life.
Come on, we've all witnessed this, we worry about it for our future selves, and many of us have experience as a caregiver. You may be dealing with this right now with a parent or spouse. They are wheelchair, armchair or bed-captive, staring vacantly at a television or napping the remainder of their lives away, unable to do more than marginally participate in life. Inactivity and poorly functioning systems further causes another layer of unwelcome issues such as painful pressure sores and skin ulcers, urinary tract infections and some associated disorientation, swollen legs, exhaustion, weakened muscles and fall risk, to name just a few.
What can be done to improve the quality of life for our loved ones, and what about those of us just crossing our fingers and hoping with all our heart that this will not be our situation too someday?
We can eat better, and drink more water. We can do this now to prevent some of those future debilitating illnesses and disease, and create better habits and a healthier body with which to move into our elder years.
And, there is good news for those already of advanced years and experiencing problems. The the right foods plus proper hydration can improve the quality of a person's life at any age. This means that you have the power to potentially help someone you care for that is in declining health to have a better quality of life. What a gift!
Another thing we can do is to move our bodies; maintain core strength, bone density, balance and flexibility. But that is the stuff of a different article all its own.
So, we know that genetics can play a part in our future health, but did you know how huge an impact the proper nutrients can have for the elderly? It's easy to say, "Hey, they're 87 years old, let 'em eat what they want!". With respect to their age and providing for small enjoyments, I get that, I do. But we do need to pay attention when it becomes a substitute to the proper nutrition that will make a difference in their cognitive abilities, how they feel, or what they are able to physically do each day. This can sometimes be the difference between laying in a bed waiting to die, or truly living each day given. For this reason, it is worth the effort to find a nutritionally balanced combination of foods that they will willingly eat, rather than being grateful that they agreed to eat a muffin or toast in order to just get some calories into them.
Simply said, getting older doesn't mean getting a pass on paying attention to achieving good nutrition or drinking enough water or other beneficial liquids.
Aging brings changes in the body's nutritional needs that should be addressed. Plus for many, the twilight years arrive arm in arm with the onset of disease and its complications as a result of a lifetime pattern of less than healthy choices. Type 2 Diabetes, with kidney, eyes and leg/foot issues is a good example of this. Let’s not forget that line up of corrective prescriptions, each with their own side effects and interactions. Then consider the lack of physical activity because of pain or weakness, and perhaps even dental issues. Any number of things can cause a diminishing appetite for the very foods that would provide much needed nutrition. There are many other reasons too, for poor food choices or reduced intake by seniors.
With the many problems this creates for the body, a person's remaining years can become a pure torture instead of something to be celebrated.
Since the right combination of foods and adequate hydration can help to improve this bleak picture, isn't it worth learning more about foods and their direct nutritional benefits? You can do this by asking questions of the health care provider, to be sure you understand the reasons behind dietary recommendations. Discovering what certain foods actually does for our system can be highly motivating, even for the pickiest of eaters. Good nutrition allows us to continue to feel good as we age, be energetic, remain positive, and can keep us safe from painful or disabling injuries. There are also things you can do to encourage a person resistant to change to agree to better food choices, such as introducing them to Smoothies, that would be very tasty and highly nutritional.
We all want to enjoy our lives fully right to our last breath. Some things might be beyond our control, but the nourishing fuel we can provide to the one and only body we will ever have, is totally up to us. Also, for us caregivers, it is our responsibility to do this for those that cannot, avoiding the avalanche of problems that poor nutrition can have on their already compromised health and emotional well being.
Bonnie St.Pierre is an entrepreneur photographer of 35 years and a professional copywriter. Her additional experience as a Med/Surg/Hospice Nurse in her youth and for many years as a Caregiver, has nourished a unique insight into the human element, the challenges we all face in our lifetime, and the solutions we seek. She addresses these in the meaningful storytelling photographs she creates, and in the pieces that she writes. See more at B. St.Pierre Studio, B. St.Pierre Collection, andThe Ride Ain't Free.