Nutrition & Longevity in Your Residential Assisted Living Home

Are you looking for ways to improve your Residential Assisted Living home?

What if you could keep your RAL full of residents longer?

How about starting with nutrition?

There are many unique challenges that come with operating a Residential Assisted Living home, but one of the vital elements that can easily be overlooked is the nutrition we offer our residents. So many of us take food for granted. It is part of everyday life and we are all so busy that we don’t always give it the thought it deserves.

Not only does nutrition provide the important fuel that we all need to enjoy healthy and balanced lives, it also equips our bodies to fight infection and stave off disease.

Seniors in our care face especially significant challenges as older bodies tend to have a more difficult time absorbing as many nutrients from food as younger bodies do. There are also other challenges facing seniors ranging from difficulty chewing to problems with digesting to special dietary needs of changing metabolism or medications.

Our society has long faced problems associated with diet. Unfortunately, even issues as simple as eating too much or eating too little are greatly expounded when you involve the elderly. Generally, after decades of living busy lifestyles, many Americans have developed fairly poor eating habits that easily extend into old age if they are not addressed.

The evidence is clear; our bodies change as we age, and seniors have very different nutritional needs compared to those of children, teenagers, and even middle-aged adults. These age related changes affect how the body processes food, which influences a person’s dietary needs and can greatly affect their appetite, mood and longevity.

Some of the more noticeable changes are:

Slowing Metabolism. This happens naturally, but it becomes more pronounced if seniors don’t get as much exercise as they should. When metabolism slows, the body doesn’t burn as many calories, which means a person needs to eat less to stay at a healthy weight. As a result, the foods eaten should be as nutrient-rich as possible. Most senior women with average activity levels need about 1,600 calories per day, while senior men with an average activity level need about 2,000 calories each day. Fewer calories are needed if the person is relatively sedentary, more if they are very active.

Change in Digestive System. Later in life, the body produces less of the fluids that it needs to process food in the digestive system. These changes can make it harder for the body to absorb important nutrients like folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12.

Change in Appetite. Many seniors take one or more medications for health conditions; these can cause side effects such as a lack of appetite or upset stomach, which can lead to poor nutrition.

Change in Emotional Health. Nutrition has a significant impact on the emotional health of an individual. Seniors who feel depressed or lonely can often lose interest in eating. On the other hand, emotional issues may cause others to eat more and gain weight, leading to a whole host of health problems.

There are many simple ideas you can employ to help elderly residents in your care develop better eating habits and achieve positive nutritional results. Ideally, residents should see a physician in order to determine their exact caloric need, as individuals’ needs vary. Although, if you have the opportunity to bring in a nutritionist that will help guide your residents toward eating a healthy and balanced diet, that would be a significant advantage for their longevity and add value to your RAL business. Or you can do some research of your own and help create nutrition plans that are more tailored to senior health.

Most nutrition plans involving seniors should begin with an increase in healthy calories. Many of us have become accustomed to skipping the occasional meal as we move through our busy days but as we age this deficit in nutrition can have a greater negative impact on our health. Some excellent and simple ways to boost caloric intake in seniors include:

Smoothies & healthy milk shakes. They pack a lot of calories, and if fortified with nutritional ingredients make great meals for seniors, especially those with problems chewing and digesting their food.

Dehydrated milk. Try adding it to cereal or a creamy sauce to boost calories and much needed protein.

Eggnog. It’s not just for the holidays, and it also delivers lots of calories.

As you and your team make food choices to improve the nutrition of your residents, keep these helpful tips in mind:

Get to know H2O. Hydration is extremely important for older adults. If a senior becomes dehydrated it can lead to a whole host of issues. Sometimes people just focus on the nutrition aspect, but it is just as important to make sure your residents are well-hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is so vital for our body’s health. Help your residents stay hydrated and be sure to offer lots of water and non-caffeinated beverages as well as foods with high water content like soups, cucumbers, grapes, and melons (unless otherwise instructed by their doctor).

Pack in protein. So important for optimal health, protein powers our body. Stick with lean proteins like beans, eggs, chicken and fish, lean meats, and nuts.

Opt for healthy fats. Choose healthy fats found in seeds, nuts, avocados, fatty fish, and vegetable oils rather than saturated fats and trans fats.

Keep the diet “Rough.” Include a variety of high-fiber foods daily, such as raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains. These foods help cut down on constipation as well as providing the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients that the body needs for healthy aging. They also help maintain weight, and reduce the risk of heart problems. It is also important for seniors to increase their intake of fruits, vegetables, and fiber in order to boost the healthy enzymes found in a plant-rich diet. Another option if a resident isn’t sure they are getting enough fiber is to talk to a doctor about fiber supplements.

Choose whole grains. These nutrient and fiber rich foods will help digestion and protect the heart. Choose brown rice, whole grain cereals, and whole wheat bread instead of white bread and refined grains.

Calcium is critical. Everyone needs calcium to protect bone health, but seniors should really bone up on calcium-rich foods like low-fat dairy products. A calcium supplement, usually paired with vitamin D, its partner in bone building, can also help provide what the body needs.

Supplement B12. Seniors should also consume foods, like cereals, that are fortified with vitamin B12. The aging body has a decreased ability to absorb B12, so getting more through diet and supplements will ensure that seniors meet their daily requirements.

These are just a few of the many ways you can help your residents get the nutrition they need for health and longevity. Not only will you be helping your residents, but establishing a real commitment to senior health is something that is likely to spread by word of mouth in your community, setting your RAL apart from the rest as a place that genuinely cares for the health of its residents.

As you look to improve the nutrition of your seniors. Remember that it is fine to start gradually, exchanging poor foods for healthier options is a good first step. But try equip your team to make changes every week that will bring your residents closer to a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Along with better nutrition, flavorful, healthy and satisfying food begins with fresh ingredients. It is better if the kitchen cooks from scratch and follows recipes designed to use fresh ingredients. When they do, residents eat great tasting meals that are nutritious. Sure it is easier to resort to packaged food that is nearly ready to serve, but you will be missing out on the many benefits of using fresh ingredients, such as, improved flavor, greater nutritional value, reduction in the need for additional supplements, and overall improved health and wellness.

Have you ever heard an older person complain about how food tastes? Do you know why?

It’s partly in the taste buds. These change over time and affect the flavor of foods. For older adults, the same foods don’t taste the way it did years ago. As the body ages, so do the taste buds. Adults have over 6,000 taste buds, while elderly people have only 2,000 to 3,000.

This doesn’t mean that the flavor of food diminishes forever, and that they’ll never enjoy food again. On the contrary, it means that food needs more seasoning than it was previously getting. Put down the salt shaker, because there are many other things that can increase the savory nature of food. Lessen salt intake by using other ingredients such as cayenne pepper, rosemary, garlic, and more. The stronger a seasoning, the more likely seniors will be able to sense it and enjoy their food again.

The good thing about adding healthier seasoning is that many of the herbs and spices used to create savory dishes are beneficial to the body. Garlic offers anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-microbial functions in the body. The traditional bulb of garlic is a high blood purifier and is chock full of strong taste that is so needed for seniors. Rosemary is also great for treating and preventing influenza. Cinnamon and cayenne pepper have properties that help both glucose levels and arthritis symptoms.

The body needs some salt for regular functioning, but salt is a restriction for many elderly people, and they often need to follow a sodium-free style of meals. If it is essential to add salt to a meal, do it carefully and avoid adding any salt at all to prepackaged food.

Seniors are just like any other demographic, they want food to taste good. For many residents in senior housing, food is one of the more important priorities, even over other amenities. The importance of quality food cannot be over-stated as it offers nourishment and nutrition that contribute significantly to a senior’s defense to chronic illness and declining health. But if it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t get eaten. And if it doesn’t get eaten, then the health benefit isn’t there.

Food For Thought…

Assisted living homes and care agencies with strong nutritional programs may have a competitive advantage in this ever-expanding industry. Many people look for assisted living homes that have a cooking staff and chef willing to cater to the preferences of the residents, so if you are looking for another way to stand out from the rest of assisted living options in your area, consider hiring for this added feature. Look for a chef who specializes in organic and fresh produce and supports the health objectives of residents, wellness, and community involvement by creating memorable meals. This will only add to the value of your RAL home.

A dynamic and interactive chef can guide residents through cooking topics, preparation techniques, tips for exploring new types of cuisine, and nutritional benefits of healthier ingredients. And giving seniors a chance to participate in the process is a great way to create social engagement and improve their mental health as well.

Also, consider offering opportunities for the residents to become an active part of their own healthy nutrition by allowing them to help with various elements of meal preparation. Many seniors enjoy the interaction and activity of mixing ingredients and preparing food…something that most of them will undoubtedly have many years of experience doing for themselves.

To ensure residents receive the food they like, have your team get feedback from them regularly. Of course, there are some residents who won’t always want the foods that are best for them. In these cases, your team can counsel them about healthy choices, but they can’t force them to comply. You can only educate residents who want to be educated.

And remember, when establishing a plan for balanced nutrition, the team approach is always a good place to start. One of the most effective methods is to encourage a working relationship between your team or kitchen staff and the families of the residents in order to meet the residents’ needs. Communication and a shared goal of resident satisfaction keeps everyone on the same page. If there is a breakdown in communication, it can become very apparent. Some family members might want complete control over a loved one’s diet, so it is important to establish a rapport with them, in case you need to explain, for example, why it’s alright for the resident to enjoy a slice of cake on her 85th birthday.

If you liked this resource and are interested in finding out more, check out our YouTube channel, filled with tons of content to answer all your questions and help you navigate the exciting opportunities in Residential Assisted Living.


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