Caregivers Nutrition

Caregiver-Driven Healthy Nutrition in Black Senior Care

Written by Anthony Emecheta

A popular bon mot said, “You are what you eat”. That means a lot more consideration should go into a plate of food than just the taste and aroma. The importance of taking the right amount of nutrients daily becomes more pronounced as you get older—and this is a key point every caregiver must pay attention to as they go about their duties

Feeding America, a nonprofit, recently carried out a survey and the outcome was the State of Senior Hunger report. According to the report, 5.5 million seniors aged sixty and above experienced food insecurity in 2021. Moving down to demographics, it said Black seniors were 3.8 times more likely to experience food insecurity compared to their White counterparts.

This problem has its roots in factors like systemic racism where fewer supermarkets are present in predominantly Black neighborhoods, which restricts their access to fresh and nutritious foods. There is also a socioeconomic disparity side to the story which leaves Black families with limited financial resources. Seniors are often forced to choose between paying for life-saving drugs and purchasing nutritious meals.

Consequently, Black families often settle for sugar and fat-rich fast food—which is a risk factor for diabetes and obesity. The price of poor nutrition can be dire, including higher susceptibility to chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

Studies have shown that Black Americans are 60% more likely to get diabetes than White Americans and up to 5.6 times more prone to kidney diseases than other races with diabetes. University of Texas Southwester Medical Center’s Clyde W. Yancy, MD, attributed these factors to genetics. Knowing that poor diet increases the risk of diabetes further underscores the need to be more nutritionally conscious around Black seniors since they are already at a higher risk because of their genetic code.

The aim of this piece is to help caregivers understand the importance of nutrition when they are around seniors (particularly Black seniors) as well as to help them make healthy choices for their patients.

5 tips to ensure aging seniors eat more healthily

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), eating patterns change as we get older. Therefore, if you are a caregiver to a Black patient, making sure they are getting the right nutrition should be your priority. The absence of the right nutrition may lead to increase in hospital visitations and bills. Here are 5 caregiver tips that will help you to ensure healthier nutrition for a Black patient.

1. Bring “variety is the spice of life” to the table

You need to make sure they are eating from the different food groups namely carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, dairy, beverages, and oils. The USDA has developed food patterns that should help you understand ways to eat healthily. Unless you are a dietician or nutritionist, it is always a good idea to be in contact with one.

“Whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried, eating foods from all of the food groups will help you meet your nutritional goals,” advised dietician nutritionist Theresa Gentile. She adds that while it is good to stay true to your culture, exploring new ingredients and trying dishes from around the globe will “expand your taste buds”. The element of surprise often the encouragement that seniors need to eat healthy.

2. Monitor their eating habits

Even when you have prepared a meal plan based on the recommendation of a nutritionist or specialized physician, supervising your loved ones or patients during meals is also important. Sometimes there is no guarantee that they will eat or finish their ration once no one is watching.

Cleveland family doctor Ami Hall said, “Friends, family and gathering socially…makes mealtime more enjoyable”. Eating with your aging loved ones can make it less obvious that they are being monitored—while also nourishing their mental health.

3. Create and maintain regular meal schedules

Dr. Hall noted that the simple act of eating regularly can take more effort as we age. Therefore, she suggested that having a regular mealtime can give your aging loved ones or patients something to look forward to. As a caregiver, you can leverage alarms or set reminders that will help your aging loved ones avoid skipping meals.

4. Increase food hygiene practices

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, seniors above 65 years are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses like Salmonella and Listeria. The reason is partly linked to the weakening of the immune system as you age. Also, aging leads to a decline in how well your liver and kidney eliminate toxins from your body.

Farm-to-store foods are nutritionally healthier but are also at a higher risk of being contaminated by pathogenic organisms. Therefore, as you strive to create healthier plates for your aging loved ones or patients, make sure that you wash and cook them thoroughly. Leftovers should be refrigerated as soon as possible.

5. Hydration matters

Hydration is an important component of nutrition. Water ensures proper cellular turgidity and function. In other words, hydration ensures proper digestion and functioning of the body’s cells. Limit intake of sugary or salty fluids and encourage seniors to take more water.

The nutritional needs of people vary remarkably depending on various factors including health conditions. Dr. Hall strongly advises seeing a doctor before making nutritional changes, especially when you notice a change in appetite and weight.

Caregivers are not doctors. However, they should be in contact with professionals like diabetes doctor, nutritionists etc. regarding the needs of the elderly. Having the right nutrition can be the make-or-break factor for longevity of one’s life and make the difference for those battling terminal illnesses.

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About the author

Anthony Emecheta

Anthony Emecheta holds a master’s degree in microbiology. He is a passionate educator and particularly an advocate of racial equality. He strongly believes the world will be a better place if we all see ourselves as humans first before anything else.

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