There can be many challenges that we need to overcome as we age, but perhaps what many of us overlook is how aging impacts our nutritional status. Most of us have been following the same mealtime patterns for several years, so facing this new set of challenges can be difficult. There is some good news, however. By identifying these mealtime challenges, we are able to manage them and promote healthy aging among older adults.
Whether they are physical, financial or social challenges, it is important to recognize these mealtime challenges faced by seniors:
Identifying Physical Challenges
- Poor Dental Health. Both natural teeth and dentures may cause your loved one discomfort and pain if their teeth are decaying or if the dentures don’t fit properly.
- Difficulty Swallowing. Dysphagia, or impaired swallowing, poses many threats as those with this condition are at a higher risk of choking or aspiration pneumonia, which is caused by food particles in the lungs. Dysphagia may be a result of gastroesophageal reflux disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke, but there are other unknown causes.
- Limited Mobility. As we age, it can become increasingly difficult to walk around enormous grocery stores and carry around purchased items (even for short distances), which discourages many older adults from going to these stores filled with healthy options.
- Medication Side Effects. Medications often come with many side effects, and since older adults are typically prescribed more medications than younger adults, they are at greater risk of these side effects. Common side effects that can be particularly harmful to older adults include a loss in appetite or a loss in taste or smell.
- Loss in Senses. As explained above, a side effect of medications can be a loss in taste or smell, but there are many other reasons why you could experience a loss in senses, including injury, smoking or illness. Loss of smell is more common than loss of taste, but losing one’s sense of taste is more harmful. Due to a loss in senses, one is unable to easily detect spoiled food and is more likely to add too much sugar or salt to their food, which is especially harmful for anyone with diabetes or high blood pressure who needs to monitor their sodium intake.
Identifying Financial Challenges
- Inexpensive yet Unhealthy Processed Foods. Many seniors who have a lower income have more restrictions when they shop for food, leading many to purchase inexpensive processed grocery foods. Although these are inexpensive and easier meals to prepare, 70 percent of mixed and pre-cooked food items exceed the FDA’s guidelines for sodium. Again, this could pose a serious threat to those with diabetes or high blood pressure.
Identifying Social Challenges
- Changes in Lifelong Habits. The fact that food preferences or mealtime patterns oftentimes change as we age can be very upsetting for some seniors, especially if they occur due to the challenges listed above. However, one’s nutritional status will certainly decrease if he/she is less inclined to eat due to these changes.
- Living Alone. Although all of the challenges listed above are difficult for older adults to cope with, perhaps losing a mealtime companion is one of the hardest challenges to endure. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed that an astounding 11.8 million older adults lived alone in 2012.
It is important to raise awareness of these mealtime challenges faced by seniors, and next, we’ll discuss tips for how to manage your loved one’s mealtime challenges.