Seniors have unique challenges when it comes to nutrition, and sometimes their issues can extend to the act of eating itself. It’s easy to grow accustomed to chewing and swallowing, eating tasty foods, and relaxing over a good meal—but for some seniors and others affected with eating issues, getting adequate nutrition can be a challenge. Here’s a look at some common eating problems seniors face.
Chewing and Swallowing
There are many reasons an older adult may have trouble with the physical act of chewing and swallowing. The medical term for this is dysphagia, and researchers estimate that up 15 percent of seniors are affected by this condition. Symptoms of dysphagia include:
- Coughing while eating or drinking
- Frequently choking on foods and liquids
- Difficulty with swallowing
- A gurgly voice, indicating foods aren’t being fully swallowed
There are many potential causes of dysphagia, including dental problems, acid reflux, stroke, and other conditions. Doctors can treat dysphagia with some medicines or surgery, and some patients learn to live with the condition by adopting a special liquid diet or utilizing a feeding tube in cases of severe dysphagia.
Little or No Appetite
For many seniors, not being able to taste foods leads to a loss of appetite and poor nutrition. Aging dulls the tastebuds, plus many common medications can affect our perception of flavors. Experts recommend adding herbs, spices, and seasoning to foods to enhance flavor and make meals more appealing. Smaller plates and bright colors can also make food more exciting and entice seniors to eat more.
If adding more flavor doesn’t work, you can try serving smaller meals more frequently. Instead of three meals per day, try five to six smaller meals and see if that improves your senior’s appetite.
Coordination & Stamina
Some seniors have trouble using forks and spoons with the same skill they did when they were younger. Caregivers can serve seniors finger food or consider pureed foods that can be consumed through a straw.
Risk of malnourishment isn’t the only concern for seniors with eating issues. Seniors and their caregivers should be vigilant against dehydration. Dehydration is one of the first signs of eating problems and can manifest through several symptoms, including:
- Dry mouth
- Fatigue or sleepiness
- Decreased urine output
- Urine is low volume and more yellowish than normal
- Dry skin
Addressing dehydration can be simple: Supplement seniors’ diets with extra soup broth, and make sure they’re taking water with every meal. Severe dehydration can be treated by administering electrolytes and carbohydrates, and in some cases, doctors will deliver these treatments intravenously.
A lack of eating leads to a number of poor health outcomes and unnecessary complications. Ensure the quality of your senior’s life by making sure you’re aware of the most common eating issues seniors face.