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Nutrition for Older Adults: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Good nutrition is important at any age. But it is especially important for older adults. Eating a healthy diet helps keep your body strong. And it can help lower your risk for disease.

As you get older, your nutrition needs change. Your body needs more of certain nutrients. These include vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D. But it may be harder for you to get these and other important nutrients. This could be for many reasons. You may not feel as hungry as you used to. Or you could have problems with your teeth or mouth that make it hard to chew. Or you may not enjoy planning and preparing meals, especially if you live alone.

If you still need help, talk with your doctor. They may recommend that you work with a dietitian. A dietitian can help you plan meals.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

To stay healthy

  • Eat a variety of foods. The more you vary the foods you eat, the more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you get.
  • Eat vegetables and fruits. Fresh, frozen, or no-salt canned vegetables and fruits in their own juice, water, or light syrup are good choices.
  • Include foods that are high in vitamin B12 in your diet. Good choices are fortified breakfast cereal, milk or other dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Older adults who don't eat a variety of foods may need to take a daily supplement to get enough B12.
  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D. Good choices include milk, cheese, and yogurt. Other good options are tofu, orange juice with added calcium, and some leafy green vegetables, such as collard greens and kale. If you don't use milk products, fortified soy beverage is another great choice. Talk to your doctor about calcium and vitamin D supplements. If you are 50 or older, Health Canada recommends taking a supplement with 400 IU of vitamin D each day.
  • Eat protein foods every day. Good choices include lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese. Other good options are cooked beans, peanut butter, and nuts and seeds.
  • Choose whole grain foods. Look for foods including whole grain bread, whole grain cereals, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal.

If you have constipation

  • Eat high-fibre foods every day. These include vegetables, fruits, cooked dried beans, and whole grain foods.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Ask your doctor if stool softeners may help keep your bowels regular.

If you have mouth problems that make chewing hard

  • Pick canned or cooked vegetables and fruits. These are often softer.
  • Chop or shred meat, poultry, and fish. Add sauce or gravy to the meat to help keep it moist and make it easier to chew and swallow.
  • Pick other protein foods that are soft. These include cheese, peanut butter, cooked beans, cottage cheese, and eggs.

If you have trouble shopping for yourself

  • Ask a local food store to deliver groceries to your home.
  • Contact a volunteer centre and ask for help.
  • Ask a family member or neighbour to help you.

If you have trouble preparing meals

  • Use a microwave oven to cook TV dinners and other frozen or prepared foods.
  • Take part in group meal programs. You can often find these through senior's activity or day programs.
  • Have meals brought to your home. Your community may offer programs that deliver meals, such as Meals on WheelsTM.

If your appetite is poor

  • Try eating smaller amounts of food more often. For example, eat 4 or 5 small meals a day instead of 1 or 2 large meals.
  • Eat with family and friends. Or take part in group meal programs offered through volunteer programs. Eating with others may help your appetite. And it helps you be more social.
  • Ask your doctor if your medicines could cause appetite or taste problems. If so, ask about changing medicines.
  • Add spices and herbs to increase the flavour of food.
  • If you think you are depressed, ask your doctor for help. Depression can affect your appetite. And it can make it hard to do everyday activities like grocery shopping and making meals. Treatment can help.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter L643 in the search box to learn more about "Nutrition for Older Adults: Care Instructions".

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.