At some point, most of us will take on the responsibility of caring for an elderly relative or friend. However, many family caregivers may not be trained or prepared for the responsibilities they face. There are aspects of providing care that many people are unfamiliar with or are unsure of.
“It goes without saying that your loved one should maintain a healthy and balanced diet along with an active lifestyle,” says clinical dietitian Victoria Pena-Acuna. “In addition to eating a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, proteins and wholegrains, there are a number of specific nutrients that can boost older adults’ health.”?
The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend:
- Calcium and vitamin D – older adults require an increased intake of calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health. Recommended daily intake can be found in three servings of vitamin D-fortified low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt. Other calcium-rich foods include fortified cereals, dark leafy greens and canned fish with soft bones.
- Vitamin B12 – many elderly people don’t get the recommended intake of B12. You can increase intake by eating fortified cereal, lean meat and fish.
- Fiber – a vital nutrient to keep the bowels healthy and regular is fiber. Whole-grain breads and cereals, beans and peas are rich in fiber.
- Potassium – fruits, vegetables, low fat or fat-free milk and yogurt are good sources of potassium. Increasing your Potassium intake and lowering salt intake may lower the risk of high blood pressure.
- Fats – a diet low in saturated fats and trans fats, and high in omega-3-fatty acids will reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease. Check food labels and choose products to ensure that most of the fats consumed are polyunsaturated or monounsaturated.
Medications and appointments
As people age, there are often reasons why they may find following the prescribed medication regimens more challenging, so it is not uncommon for family members or friends to step in to help. Memory declines as we age, so reminders or a printed schedule can be useful for both medication and hospital appointments. Pharmacies can also provide a variety of special pill boxes or aids that can help to stay on track. Other factors that can hinder access to healthcare include vision, hearing and dexterity. You might like to offer support to your loved one by providing transport and accompanying them to appointments in order to provide physical assistance and to help ensure all the advice is properly understood.
Loneliness and social isolation are common among the elderly and are risk factors for declining health and poor quality of life. When people get older, driving to the local coffee shop or park to meet up with friends and family becomes difficult. Remaining a fully-involved member of the family or a friendship group has been proven to alleviate feelings of loneliness. Problem-solving and regular interaction is also known to contribute to retaining cognitive function among older adults.3 Try planning activities that all generations can enjoy, such as enjoying a barbecue when the weather is good, watching a movie together, or playing board games at home.
The effortless day-to-day tasks we conduct in our younger years can be become burdensome and tiring for the elderly. Tasks such as getting dressed, bathing, putting shoes on, looking after the garden, cleaning and cooking, can all become too much for an elderly relative to deal with, especially if they live alone. Providing day-to-day support is one of the most common activities caregivers take part in. Taking a relative grocery shopping, providing assistance around the house and garden, or even cooking them meals a few times a week, can be a huge weight off their shoulders.?
Speaking to your loved one’s doctor can be extremely helpful if you are struggling to understand their needs. Speak to other friends and family to see if they can also help out. It may be useful to create a schedule or use a dedicated calendar to give the elderly person some piece of mind, while also preventing one person from taking on the full caregiver responsibility.