As Dad grows older, his nutritional needs change. His metabolism slows down, his digestive system works differently and his appetite may seem a bit off. Because of this, his eating habits may be naturally changing as well. But if you’ve been noticing a change that seems drastic, it may signal a problem that goes beyond his physiology.
If Dad has experienced these events, his eating habits may be affected:
1. Emotional Events
If Dad is going through a stressful or emotional time, such as losing a loved one, it may lead to malnourishment or binge eating. He may experience a lack of appetite or may want to “eat his feelings.” If you notice a change like this, or if he seems to have prolonged depression, contact a therapist to help him cope with his emotions in a healthy way.
2. Decreased Cognitive Function
If Dad suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, or if he’s experiencing common decreases in cognitive function that can come with aging, he may be forgetting to eat. If you’ve noticed him skipping meals, ask him if he’s forgetting. If so, set an alarm on his phone or clock for meal times.
3. Limited Diet
Dad may have to follow a limited diet, such as ones that reduce his sugar, salt, fat or protein intake. He may not know what he can or can’t eat now, or how to cook in a way that’s different from what he’s been doing his entire life. Help him create a weekly meal plan based on his new dietary restrictions.
4. Decreased Social Life
Eating alone every night can be monotonous—and downright depressing. If Dad eats alone often, he may have a reduced appetite because he’s not enjoying meals. Try taking him out or cooking dinner for him once or more a week and invite other family and friends to join the meal.
5. Changed Digestive System
As he ages, Dad’s body produces less of the fluid needed to digest foods. It’s important that he gets important nutrients such as folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 to help with that process. Vitamin C, vitamin D and fatty acids also are important for elderly nutrition. Go shopping with him to pick out foods that are rich in these nutrients to ensure a balanced diet.
Dehydration is one of the top 10 reasons seniors end up in the hospital—and it can manifest itself in a feeling of hunger. If Dad is overeating, it may be because he’s dehydrated. Water isn’t the only way to get hydrated. Encourage him to mix things up with soup, iced tea, juice, smoothies, coconut water or milk, too.
If you notice any signs of malnutrition, such as getting sick often, dry skin, weight loss or muscle weakness, take Dad to the doctor for a checkup.
Another option is a move to a senior living community. With social dining spaces and nutritious meals, a senior community can remove the stress of planning meals, shopping and cooking—and enhance the dining experience by sharing it with friends. Contact Life Care Services to learn what today’s senior communities can offer.