6 reasons healthy eating can be difficult for an aging parent – and what to do about it

You’re concerned that your aging mom or dad isn’t eating properly. You know that poor nutrition can lead to serious health problems, especially among seniors who may already be dealing with conditions like heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. You’d like to see them enjoy food like they used to, but you’re not sure what you can do to get them back on track.

It’s true. Healthy eating becomes especially important as you age. According to the Province of British Columbia’s guide, Healthy Eating for Seniors, getting the right vitamins and minerals, in the right amounts, can help prevent anemia, depression, and memory loss. It can also help with healing after surgery or an injury and keep bones and teeth healthy and strong.

But healthy eating can also become more difficult as we get older. Here are six reasons why along with some practical advice.

1. Body changes

Appetite naturally decreases as we age. Part of that has to do with the body not needing as much food. But other things can put a damper on appetite as well, like the side effects of some medications. The sense of taste can also become dulled, making food less appealing. Age-related dental or digestive problems can also make it more challenging to eat properly. 

What to do about it – If possible, deal with the root of the problem. For instance, if it’s a dental issue, encourage your parent see a dentist or denturist. If a medication is putting them off their food, their doctor may be able to prescribe another medicine with the same therapeutic benefits but without the unwanted side effect. If their sense of taste is simply less acute now, additional seasoning may bring back some flavour.

2. Dietary restrictions

Your parent may be forced to go on a diet in order to manage a chronic condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease. They may not like all the changes they’re being told to make (or necessarily understand why they’re important), and because of this they may not follow their diet as well as they should.

What to do about it – If your parent is struggling with a medical diet, ask whether their doctor can refer them to a dietitian. The dietitian may be able to help your parent better understand the reasons behind the diet and show them satisfying ways to follow it. Check out recipe books written or certified by dietitians that show how to cook tasty meals for a particular medical condition.

3. Trouble cooking or shopping 

If your parent has a mobility impairment or can no longer drive, grocery shopping is likely a challenge. And a variety of physical problems, like arthritis or poor eyesight, can make preparing meals difficult as well.

What to do about it – Many grocery stores will deliver, especially since the start of the pandemic. Or a friendly neighbour may offer to pick up somethings for your parent when they’re at the store. If they haven’t offered, they may simply be waiting to be asked. If cooking is the issue, then buying pre-cut ingredients from the grocery store or subscribing to a weekly meal kit service may reduce some of the work involved. Services like Meals-on-Wheels eliminate the need for cooking entirely. 

4. Financial issues 

Your parent’s income in retirement may be considerably less than what it was when they were working. Some types of food may become less affordable as a consequence.

What to do about it – Setting a realistic budget is important. Check out MyMoneyCoach.ca’s 12 Ways to Save Big on Groceries and Shop on a Budget for some ideas.

5. Eating alone 

Your parent may have trouble getting motivated to prepare proper meals if they’re living on their own. Cooking for one and eating alone can get old fast. These feelings can be particularly painful if your parent is recently widowed.

What to do about it – Look for opportunities for your parent to eat with others or, if it’s important to them, prepare food for others. Physical distancing during the pandemic has made this especially challenging. Many families have had to resort to virtual meals. When public health restrictions ease, check out community dining programs. Here are some that are normally run by non-for-profit agencies in Ottawa and area.

6. Family caregiving

Eating properly may not be the first thing on your parent’s mind if they’re looking after an ailing spouse. Family caregiving can be exhausting – physically and emotionally – and they may simply not have the energy or motivation to prepare nutritious meals. 

What to do about it – Find ways to ease them of the burden of cooking. Could family and friends get together and each provide one meal a week that could be reheated? Or maybe Meals on Wheels might be a good solution. If cooking is something they normally enjoy and they’d like to get back to it, are there ways you can take other caregiving duties off their plate? 

Consider a change of scene

If your parent continues to have trouble eating properly, they may want to consider moving somewhere they won’t have to prepare their own meals. Meals are often included when you move into a retirement community. They’re used to accommodating special diets. And because they recognize how important food is in all our lives, they put a lot of energy into creating a pleasurable dining experience.

If you or your parent would like to check out retirement communities in the Ottawa area, we can help. We’ll take the time to get know your parent’s tastes and needs and identify the communities that are the best fit for them, saving you hours upon hours of searching. One of our advisors would be happy to provide you with a free consultation. 

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