Senior nutrition for the caregiver

Published 1:49 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By JENNIFER DUTTON / Guest Columnist

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

Always try to sit down and eat with the person you are caring for. Elderly patients consume more calories when there is social stimulation. If possible, use colorful garnishes or arrange foods in an appealing manner. Even if the person does not have a good appetite and is not feeling well, the presence of good company and the appealing food arrangement will spark interest and likely lead to food consumption.

If the patient is in a hospital bed, position them at a 45 degree angle at least. Never try to spoon feed someone who is drowsy or lying down in bed. Aspiration could occur.

Because the body’s thirst signals become weaker with age, encourage seniors to take sips of water every 30 minutes throughout the day. Water, along with soft cooked or canned fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can help alleviate constipation that occurs as muscle action in the digestive tract slows down and we get less physical activity.

Lastly, be aware that food and drug interactions can occur. For example, antacids that contain magnesium and aluminum hydroxide may lower uptake of vitamin A. Dairy products interfere with the absorption of tetracycline, an antibiotic. People who take the blood thinner Coumadin or Warfarin should limit their consumption of greens. Alcohol may dissolve the coating on time-release pills, resulting in a toxic dosage.

Alcohol combined with oral diabetes medicines and certain antibiotics can cause numerous problems, including headaches, nausea, vomiting and chest pain. Some drugs such as insulin, steroids and certain antihistamines cause a person’s appetite to increase and they may feel excessively hungry throughout the day. Also, be aware that potassium-based salt substitutes may interfere with certain heart related medications. The safest salt substitute on the market is Mrs. Dash, which is simply dried herbs and spices.

On the flip side, there are a few good food and drug interactions. Taking an iron supplement along with a vitamin C-rich food, such as orange juice, will help the body absorb more iron. Remember to always consult your doctor about food and drug interactions, and do not self medicate with vitamins, minerals or herbal products without asking your doctor first. A daily multi-vitamin may be good insurance, but do not take more than the daily recommended dose. Vitamin and mineral toxicity can occur and do more harm than good.

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