Senior nutrition for the caregiver

Published 9:25 am Tuesday, August 23, 2011

By JENNIFER DUTTON / Guest Columnist

Aging is a part of life.

We all will become caregivers at some time. In turn, we will receive care as we age.

Some sensory changes occur in the body as we grow older, which can directly or indirectly impact nutrition status. Those who are caregivers may become frustrated as an elderly family member loses interest in foods they once enjoyed.

This article is the first in a two-part series that outlines the changes that occur in the aging body and provides tips and suggestions to help caregivers improve nutrition and quality of life for their loved ones.

As we age, sensory changes in the mouth decrease, and foods taste and smell less appealing. In fact, it is the aroma from foods that increases our appetite the most. Think about how foods taste if you have ever had a sinus cold.

Foods also taste more bland as we grow older. This is why many older people may develop a sudden interest in spicier foods such as Creole or Mexican dishes. Flavor foods with strong seasonings such as onion, garlic, oregano or mint. Some people prefer tart flavors to give their foods that extra zing. Pickles, vinegar and lemon juice can be used as well as marinades using fruit juices, wines, Italian dressing and sweet-and-sour sauce.

Another big issue for seniors is saliva production in the mouth slows with age, which makes swallowing more difficult. Decreased saliva production paired with poorly fitting dentures or tooth loss can make chewing and swallowing foods painful or even dangerous.

For the case of dry mouth, try to moisten foods using gravy, broth, sauces or syrups. Dunking foods in coffee, tea, milk or other beverages may make consuming dry bread products easier. You can also encourage the person to take a sip of beverage after each bite of food.

Jennifer Dutton is a regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. She can be reached by email at