Old man eating

Nutrition for Elderly

This is a pretty detailed story addressing nutrition for elderly people. As an RN, I'd been educated in nursing school about the aging process and what unique ailments the elderly population had. Nutrition for elderly folks was not part of the curriculum. Let me walk you through this so you can understand how nutrition fits in the aging process.

In hospital practice, I didn't truly appreciate issues with the elderly because hospitals are acute care, not chronic care. We knew the longer an elderly patient was in the hospital, the more likely they would become confused, progressively more ill, develop complications, and often die.

In total ignorance of elder care, I left my hospital position to work as an ADN (Assistant Director of Nursing) at a nursing home where a friend of mine had taken the Director job and was looking for good help. Within the first couple weeks, I'd sent several patients to the hospital ER because of that ignorance.

The first patient had a hard, hot, swollen, reddened area on her right calf. In acute care, that is a blood clot! It's very dangerous because it can break free, go to the lungs, block air flow and cause death!

In chronic care, as in this case, it can be a recurrence of phlebitis. The symptoms are identical (red, hot, swollen leg) but the causes are different. I didn't regret it, because you never really know. It might have been a blood clot, but other staff with more experience, and knowing the patient's history, would not have sent her.

Several body systems affect nutrition for elderly people. Lets start from the head and work our way down.

Memory Loss. It's not a normal part of aging. There are plenty of elderly folks that have no problem with memory. There's an abundant amount of information available to address memory loss.

How is nutrition affected by memory? Yes, I wrote that right. Read it again, then continue...

We need to remember to buy food, store it properly, prepare it, and eat it! Any of those steps could be and are forgotten. I've watched people go to their cupboard for food, find nothing they like, or nothing at all, and then return to their chair to watch t.v. and not eat!

Foods go bad and are eaten anyway - things taste differently as we age. Thought goes into preparing food, what if you forgot how to make a sandwich? What if you forgot if you took your medicine, or if you thought you ate, but really took your medicine? After we go through these systems, I'll share what you can do about providing nutrition for elderly people.

Eyes, ears, nose, throat...what about mouth? Vision dims, hearing is diminished, smells are different, there may be swallowing difficulties...mouth pain, tooth pain, dry mouth, and poor fitting dentures. How many times is nutrition for elderly provided in a can? Have you looked at the ingredients in those?

What do you order from the menu if you can't see it? Most elderly won't ask, that's embarrassing and they have their pride. Going out to eat is out of the question if you have trouble swallowing. Choking in public? No way! How and what do you eat if it hurts? or if your dentures are loose? Again, drinking a can of what they call nutrition for elderly people is often the only choice.

Lets get to the stomach next. As we age, everything slows. It takes longer for foods to digest. Many times, sweets are eaten first because of those old dull taste buds right? Or, maybe a big glass of lemonade. They sure won't let you add salt to the food, so sugar it is. Then there's less food eaten because the stomach is filling quicker than it's emptying. Of course, you could always rely on that nutritionally inadequate can again.

Moving the food through the rest of the system, taking the nutrients out and expelling the waste, is slowed too. There's a higher percentage of 'transverse impaction' in the elderly than any other population. That means the food moves out of the stomach, into the top portion of the intestine, then just sits there and hardens. If it becomes an obstruction, label it critical!

What about that bladder? When your joints hurt, you don't want to get up to go to the bathroom. So, you drink less water. Water nourishes the cells, carries nutrients in and wastes out. When elderly don't drink, they become dehydrated and toxic! Round and round we go, back to memory, which is affected when we are toxic.

Other issues are heart palpitations (causing weakness and "I just feel bad"), respiratory trouble (if you can't breathe, it's hard to eat), bone & joint pain (it takes too much effort to get to the table), and emotional changes (primarily depression).

Believe it or not, there is hope (beyond the can).

Nutrition for elderly people, because of advanced technology, is as simple as giving candy to a baby. That's an old cliche, but it still works for me! Reducing the size of nutrients so they go straight into the cells, bypassing digestion, is the key.

Memory? OK - for the first bit of time, remind someone to take the nutrition.

Eyes, Ears, Nose, Throat...and mouth? No issue! Just put it in a glass of water and sip on it. You won't die if you choke on a sip right? Hold it in your mouth, spray it on your skin, the nutrition will get in there, it's cellular! Do not heat it up though, the heat will destroy the enzymes.

Stomach? Cellular nutrition doesn't need digestion.

Intestines? Aah, they will move better. Nutrition given to the cells of the body cause the body to eliminate wastes more efficiently.

Bladder? Yes, you do need water to get the nutrition into the cells, but just one glass a day will do that. Then, when your body responds to the nutrition and heals, drinking more water won't be such a bother.

All body systems are dependent on balanced nutrition. If you are elderly and under a doctor's care, tell them you're taking a quality nutritional supplement and ask them to monitor you, just in case you need changes in prescription medications.

Do not let them tell you you can't take it! It's food for goodness sake. There's not a darn thing in it to hurt you, unless you have an allergy to one of the food ingredients in it. Find a doctor who trusts that nutrition is important. They all cost the same, YOUR time and money!

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