A loss of independence or mobility can compromise a person’s nutrition. If needed, there are various ways to improve the situation.
Nutrition when faculties are compromised
Adults can rely on their own faculties to satisfy their basic needs, such as nutrition. Having a healthy and diversified diet is a key element to fitness. In some people, particular conditions, physical constraints or health problems can considerably hamper their ability to manipulate, prepare and eat food.
A number of factors can limit independence and mobility, and make nutrition more difficult. Here are some examples:
- a physical handicap
- an accident or injury
- manifestations of a chronic illness:
- trembling associated with Parkinson’s disease
- memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease
- joint pain in the hands caused by arthritis
- vision loss or weakness of the limbs caused by multiple sclerosis
- paralysis caused by cerebrovascular accident (CVA or stroke) or trauma
Changing dietary needs
During the course of a lifetime, a person’s dietary needs considerably vary, depending on a multitude of factors: age, gender, lifestyle, health, etc. Aging and decreased physical activity and mobility can influence these needs. In the case of decreased mobility, caloric requirements sometimes decrease. However, they can increase in certain contexts, particularly in the presence of bedsores (protein needs also increase). Each person is unique, as are their nutritional needs.
When a person experiences decreased independence or mobility, the first thing to do is to establish a personalized nutrition plan. This plan must take into account several elements and requires an in-depth assessment of nutritional needs. A nutritionist is the professional of choice to complete this assessment and establish a dietary plan.
Managing “typical” problems
Individuals who find it difficult to eat well may have to deal with certain common difficulties such as:
- acid reflux and heartburn
- a lack of appetite or anorexia
- excessive weight loss
- difficult deglutition
- constipation, and
Adapted solutions can be considered to overcome these difficulties. It is sometimes forgotten that these topics can be discussed with a healthcare professional, such as a pharmacist—this is often the first step to resolving many problems.
A few tips to facilitate nutrition
If you are caring for someone who finds it difficult to eat well, here are a few helpful tips.
- Provide foods that he/she really enjoys. This will stimulate his/her appetite.
- Choose healthy foods instead of the ones that are savory, but that have a poor nutritional value (e.g., soft drinks, chocolate, chips, and pastries). In addition to having a poor nutritional value, they spoil appetite.
- Remind the person that it is time to eat by calling them on the telephone or using an alarm.
- Avoid distractions and noise during meals, as they should be enjoyed in a peaceful atmosphere. Turn off the television and ensure that only the things conducive to eating are on the table.
- Make sure mealtimes are enjoyable.
- Serve only one food item at a time.
- Encourage the person to take his/her time when eating; ask him/her to chew the food well and to savour it.
- If needed, use utensils with an ergonomic handle, cups with a double handle, non-slip glasses, etc.
- If the person does not remember that he/she has already eaten and asks for more food, give him/her healthy foods like fruits or yogurt.
- Offer foods that contain a lot of protein: eggs, chicken, fish, minced meat, rasped cheese, etc. For people with decreasing mobility and who are inactive, a sufficient intake of protein is often key.
- Consider compensating for an insufficient diet by using meal substitutes found at the pharmacy in various formats: powders, puddings, drinks, etc. There is a wide range of substitutes that meet different preferences and needs (a choice of flavours, high protein or high calorie preparations, products for diabetics, etc.).
If you or someone you love has nutrition problems, you should consult a doctor, nutritionist or pharmacist. Eating well should be one of life’s pleasures for everyone, without exception!