By Dan Baker, a Content Writer that works with Consultus Care (www.consultuscare.com), a live-in care provider that works across the UK.
With National Nutrition Month in March, and Nutrition and Hydration Week beginning on the 15th of March, there is no better time to look at the importance of good nutrition and hydration for the elderly.
As we get older, it is more important than ever that we continue to control our food and nutrition intake to ensure we remain in good health. In fact, understanding good nutrition and paying attention to what we eat can help our bodies cope with ongoing illnesses or other healthcare problems.
WHAT IS GOOD NUTRITION?
Good nutrition plays a big part in our health, regardless of our age. After all, food is how we get fuel into our bodies through nutrients, which need to be replaced daily. This includes fats, carbohydrates and proteins. In addition, water is another important component of good nutrition. Eating the wrong foods or not enough food can result in malnutrition.
While many people know that a combination of good nutrition and physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight, there are several other benefits of good nutrition. Maintaining a balanced diet can help to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, and can also help to prevent colds and infections, which can be far more serious to the elderly.
In addition, good nutrition can help to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well as increasing our energy levels, which can be of great benefit as we get older. It is important that when caring for the elder- ly, you encourage them to continue to eat their regular meals and that you monitor their diet to ensure it is well balanced.
WHAT IS A WELL BALANCED DIET?
A healthy diet for everyone should include plenty of natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables. In addition, whole grains and protein should be part of your diet. It is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and protein should come from lean meats and poultry, and dairy products should be low fat. The UK government’s recommendations for a balanced diet are depicted in the Eatwell Guide.
Unfortunately, good nutrition also involves avoiding certain foods, such as those with high salt levels that can lead to high blood pressure. Watching your cholesterol and fat intake is also important for good nutrition.
It is also important that you try and get the right mix of micronutrients into your diet. Micronutrients are essential in small amounts and include vitamins and minerals. A varied and balanced diet should provide you with all the vitamins and minerals that you need.
SIGNS OF MALNUTRITION
There are some common signs of malnutrition to look out for when you are providing care for the elderly, such as:
Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
Feeling lethargic or tired.
Muscle weakness or an increased number of falls. Sudden changes in behaviour, depression or memory loss. Constipation.
WHY IS GOOD HYDRATION IMPORTANT?
Around 60% of the human body is made up of water, which it uses for many vital processes. This is why it is so important that we hydrate ourselves regularly. It is recommended that adults consume around 2 litres of fluids a day and while your individual requirements can depend on your body size, age and environmental factors like activity levels, all adults should be aiming to drink 8 glasses of water per day.
Good hydration is critical for maintaining several body functions, including the heart and brain. In addition, good hydration also helps to reduce the risk of a range of illnesses, such as UTIs, which can pose a significant risk to the elderly.
In fact, the elderly are far more susceptible to dehydration if they struggle to recognise when they are thirsty or are unable to communicate their needs, so it is important to keep a close eye on them and know the signs of dehydration.
HOW TO STAY HYDRATED
It is recommended that adults drink 6-8 glasses of water per day. While water is the best option for rehydrating the body, it is possible to be hydrated by other drinks, such as juice, tea or milk.
As people get older, they often have difficulty staying hydrated, whether this is a conscious effort due to worries around incontinence or the effort of going to the toilet, or if they become forgetful. However, it is important that we encourage the elderly to continue drinking as dehydration can actually exacerbate any existing conditions or cause new ones.
If you work in a residential or nursing care home, it is important that you encourage the elderly to remain well-hydrated and to drink water regularly. It is always a good idea to have a glass of water within easy reach and to refill the drink regularly to prevent dehydration.
SIGNS OF DEHYDRATION
There are some common signs and symptoms of dehydration you should look out for when caring for the elderly, including:
Trouble passing urine, only passing urine infrequently or dark and concentrated urine.
A drop in blood pressure resulting in dizziness, unbalanced or headaches. Muscle cramps.
Change in mood or confusion. Constipation or UTIs.
In summary, as we get older it becomes more important than ever to eat a well-balanced diet and to maintain good nutrition and hydration. If you are providing care to the elderly in a residential or nursing care home, it is vital that you monitor what they are eating and drinking and encourage them to meet their daily required amounts.
Helping the elderly to maintain a healthy diet and stay hydrated can lessen the risk of developing chronic diseases and can help stave off colds and infections. In addition, keep an eye out for any signs or symptoms of malnutrition and dehydration.