Aging in Place (Helping seniors stay in their homes as long as possible)
By: Victoria Savage RN, Director of Clinical Services and Geriatric Care Manager at Care for Living LLC.
(Victoria Savage is an RN with 15 years of experience specializing in elder care with a passion for seniors that started in early childhood when her best friend was 82 year old Evelyn. She brings passion, knowledge and love to her practice and is fierce in her advocacy of the senior population.)
As members of the Baby boomer generation reach their golden years, the number of seniors requiring admission to long term care centers and assisted living facilities is increasing rapidly. Not only is this a financial drain on many families, it is also one of the more difficult emotional situations they will face.
As a nurse with 15 years of experience specializing in senior care I have identified four areas in life where seniors commonly begin to decline, and often this decline contributes to the premature need for facility placement. If these areas are addressed early on, many of these seniors can remain in their own home far longer.
Over the next few weeks I will be addressing these four major areas and offering some practical suggestions and insights to help address and prevent the most common causes of declining health in seniors.
Area One: Nutrition
Many years ago now, my great-great aunt Ruby was living alone at age 92 and until recently had been caring for her 93 year old sister. One day my grandmother stopped in to visit her at home, and found Ruby to be very confused and disoriented. The decision was made to place Ruby in a nursing home. It wasn’t a week before the “saucy” old aunt Ruby was back. The only change was that she was getting regular well balanced meals. At home she had been living on Lucky Charms. (They weren’t very lucky for Aunt Ruby)
In the senior population one area of decline occurs when their nutritional requirements fail to be met. Poor nutrition not only has an effect on their physical health, but their mental health as well. Clients are admitted to assisted living facilities or long term care centers with diminished mental capacity and once they receive proper nutrition often their mental status improves.
Seniors are also at increased risk for skin issues and decreased healing as a result of poor nutrition. Throughout the years I’ve seen seniors admitted to long term care facilities for skin issues that were either getting worse or were not improving at home. After admission to the facility and simply receiving adequate nutrition, these skin issues healed rather quickly. While maintaining a balanced diet requires little investment of energy for most of us, for seniors the effort required to plan and cook balanced meals on a regular basis can seem overwhelming.
Several elements contribute to poor nutritional intake in the senior population.
First, in many situations seniors are faced with preparing meals for one. In our society where eating is often a social activity it is seldom very appealing to eat alone day after day, and often as a consequence their appetites will decline. As a result the senior begins to snack on whatever is easy and available rather than prepare a full meal. Many times these quick and easy foods offer poor nutritional content. Second, seniors are often on multiple medications and many of them, or combinations of them, will contribute to decreased appetite. Making time to share a meal with your senior family member as often as possible will likely encourage them to eat more in general, and eat better in terms of nutritional value
Another factor that contributes to poor nutrition in the senior population is diminished taste. Foods simply don’t taste the same to them anymore. Again, this contributes to a lack of adequate intake. This is a difficult area to tackle. Try offering a variety of foods different from what the senior has traditionally preferred. Doing this might enable them to develop a new set of food preferences. Also work to identify which areas of taste they still possess (salty, sour, sweet) and present the favored types food as an option. In many cases seniors develop a preference for sweets (this is especially true of dementia patients). There are many foods options that are nutritionally dense and also satisfy the sweet tooth. Be aware though that salt and sugar may need to be limited in some seniors with health conditions such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and diabetes.
If you have any questions or concerns about a friend, loved one or yourself, please email Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 208-473-8254
For additional information on senior nutrition, the following links might prove to be helpful.