Caring for Seniors: What to Watch for and Prevention
Caring for an elderly loved one is a huge responsibility. Ensuring seniors are able to live a fulfilled and safe life at home is demanding enough. But these challenges become even greater when the one in your care struggles with depression or poor nutrition — issues that can significantly erode both their health and their quality of life.
Seniors and Depression
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 5% of seniors living in the community setting suffer from clinical depression. The rate is even higher for those who require home health care (13.5%) or hospitalization (11.5%).
Vision loss, mobility problems, social isolation, and memory issues can make it difficult for many older adults to find joy in their daily lives. Some signs that could suggest your family member is at risk for depression or other mental health issues include:
- Sudden change in attitude
- Unexplained eight loss/loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Lack of interest in once-favorite activities.
Always remember that depression is NOT a normal part of aging. To help your elderly loved one ward off feelings of sadness and loneliness, encourage them to:
- Engage in appropriate physical exercise.
- Connect with family and friends whenever possible.
- Spend time on hobbies and engage in other enjoyable activities.
- If they are able, volunteer for a worthy cause.
And of course, be sure to discuss any suspected mental health issues and worrying changes in attitude or behavior with your loved one’s doctor.
Old Age and Poor Nutrition
While just 1% of older adults who are independent and healthy are considered undernourished, data from the Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES) suggests that 16% of community-dwelling Americans over the age of 65 consumed fewer than 1,000 calories per day. Obviously, these individuals face a significantly higher risk of malnutrition.
Elderly people may become malnourished for a variety of reasons. In some cases, medical conditions or certain medications can suppress their appetite. Many seniors also experience a reduced sense of taste or smell that makes for less enjoyable meals. Meal prep might be a challenge for those who are disabled or suffer from mobility issues, while others may have difficulty eating because of problems with chewing or swallowing. Even a lack of financial resources can hinder a senior’s ability to access healthy and nutritious meals.
If your elderly loved one is losing weight or experiencing other signs of malnutrition, speak with their doctor to ensure an illness, medication, or other outside factors isn’t contributing to the problem. Once those issues have been ruled out or addressed, ask their healthcare provider for a referral to a registered dietician who can develop a personalized eating plan suited to your loved one’s needs and tastes.
To further encourage good nutrition:
- Be sure to provide nutrient-dense meals and snacks. At lunch or dinner, offer a hearty chicken and vegetable soup instead of plain chicken broth. Casseroles and stews also pack a big nutritional punch in a single dish.
- Add extra calories without adding volume. If your loved one has a small appetite, tasty sauces and gravies will add calories without being too filling. Use powdered skim milk to boost the nutritional value of milkshakes or hot cereals, and consider adding wheat germ to hot and cold cereals, as well as baked goods.
- Use herbs and spices: Garlic and onion powder, salt-free seasoning blends, and fresh and dried herbs will add flavor to foods, especially if your loved one has a diminished sense of taste or smell.
- Make meals colorful and appealing: Serve roasted sweet potatoes rather than plain baked spuds, or pasta with red sauce instead of buttered noodles.
- Serve smaller meals and snacks: Many older people are overwhelmed by large meals. Focus on smaller, more frequent meals and snacks.
- Make mealtimes enjoyable: Invite family and friends to share meals with you and your elderly loved one. If your loved one is able, encourage them to take advantage of senior centers or programs that offer community meals, parties, and other events.
- Consider nutritional supplements: Some older people may find it easier to sip a drink than to eat a meal. But be sure to check with their doctor or dietitian before taking this step.
- Take advantage of available services: Meals-on-Wheels and similar programs are shown to improve or help maintain nutritional status in seniors. Contact your local government, department of health or community hospital to find out what’s available in your area.
A Word About Caregiver Burnout
While caring for an elderly loved one is fulfilling, it can also be overwhelming. In fact, according to one recent study, 41% of family caregivers experience depression, mood swings, and resentment as a result of their responsibilities. Burnout occurs when caregivers don’t get the help they need or when they take on more than they can handle. It’s important to give yourself a break from time to time by engaging in favorite activities and hobbies, keeping up with friends and family, and looking after your own health.
To ease your burdens, don’t hesitate to ask family or friends for help. If that’s not an option, consider contacting your local senior citizen center or religious organization to learn what programs they might offer to support family caregivers.
FCP Live-In’s custom-designed respite care programs can also help you prevent burnout, either by providing in-home personal care assistance one or more days a week or for extended periods so you can finally take that much-needed vacation. To learn more about our options for live-in respite care, just give one of our care coordinators a call at 123-456-7890.