Supporting good health in seniors

Supporting good health in seniors

Natural changes occur as we age. We want you to know what these changes are, and how you and the one you support can work together to manage and prevent other issues from occurring. The following tips outline what you can do to nurture good health practices for older adults.

The following tips outline what you can do to nurture good health practices for older adults.

Elderly diet and nutrition

The senses of taste and smell decrease with age and as a result food is generally less appealing for older people. A poor appetite could be the result of an existing disease, side effects due to medications, stomach issues, or even a lack of teeth or ill-fitting dentures.

Another challenge that seniors may face is dry mouth, which can be brought on by the medications they take. Lack of saliva makes it difficult to chew so caregivers need to make sure the elderly have adequate liquids during their meals.

Dietary requirements may vary depending upon the overall health and illnesses of the person you are caring for and their age. You can also consider requesting a meeting with a dietitian. These professionals can provide valuable information on meal planning, including reviewing the appropriate quantities of food to serve, types of foods needed, the food texture that each older person needs (solids or minced for instance), and vitamin content of various foods.

EatRight Ontario allows you to ask nutrition-related questions and receive feedback by phone or email from a registered dietitian. Nutrition tools and links offer many additional resources to caregivers to support you in developing healthy eating habits for the person in your care as well as for you and your family.

For more great information, tips and video’s about nutrition and healthy living visit the Dieticians of Canada website.

Now that you are a caregiver, you may find yourself having to put a lot of energy into preparation and meal planning for older adults. Here are some tips to make this task easier:

  • Consider ordering groceries online or by phone.
  • Use Meals on Wheels or other community services.
  • Serve smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
  • Serve the largest meal at a time of day when the person in your care is hungriest.
  • Talk to a dietician, doctor, or pharmacist about nutritional supplements for older adults.

Elderly skin care tips

Aging directly affects the skin by making it more fragile and dry. Severe itching caused by various ailments, can be a problem in dry winter months and can be helped by these skin care tips for the elderly. Have them:

  • Take infrequent warm baths or showers with mild soaps to minimize dryness.
  • Pat skin dry with soft towel.
  • Use moisturizer after bathing.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Wear protective clothing when outdoors.
  • Change position every two hours if they are immobile.

Immobile seniors are at high risk for pressure sores (or pressure ulcers). It’s important to prevent bed sores so watch for and note:

  • Changes in birthmarks or moles that change shape, colour or size.
  • Prolonged skin sores that should have healed but haven’t.
  • Skin that is swelling, becoming red, itching, bleeding, developing new growth, or oozing in any way.

See also, our Elizz article on Pressure Ulcer Prevention.

Proper foot care for the elderly

Foot care is an important aspect of overall health and is particularly important for seniors and people with diabetes and circulatory problems – caregivers should check the feet of the elderly and those with diabetes every day.

Foot problems can create a loss of independence for seniors by limiting their mobility. If you see an open sore on the foot that is red or swollen, has pus, or is painful, make sure the doctor is aware right away. The doctor can make a referral to a proper foot care specialist.

Check the feet of the person in your care regularly and look for:

  • Long or ingrown toenails
  • Cuts or blisters
  • Sores
  • Red spots
  • Calluses

For more information check out Canadian Diabetes Association’s tips for daily foot care.

Elderly dressing tips

When assisting older adults to get dressed, allow the person to dress themselves, providing assistance as necessary when possible. Also, make sure that you as a caregiver involve the person in choosing what clothes they want to wear or buy.

Here are some elderly dressing tips to keep in mind when helping someone dress:

  • Keep clothing as practical as possible.
  • To put on a sleeve, insert your hand into the armhole and then pull the sleeve down over the person's arm.
  • Underwear should not be tight.
  • Tight fitting stockings and nylon pantyhose are not recommended.
  • Consider dressing aids such as long shoe horns, dressing sticks or zipper aids.

Mouth care for the elderly

As a caregiver, you may have to help the elderly person you are taking care of with mouth care. It may feel a bit strange at first so go slowly to allow yourself and the older adult time to adjust. If the person does not want your help, respect their wishes. Ask your dentist for advice in this case.

Here are some tips on mouth care for the elderly that you might want to try:

  • A dry mouth is common and may be helped by regular fluid intake.
  • Regular cleaning of teeth and gums will help prevent mouth sores.
  • Ensure dentures fit correctly, are brushed and rinsed thoroughly.
  • Schedule regular dental exams.
  • Artificial saliva can be helpful in seniors with dry mouth.

The Canadian Dental Association has some helpful dental advice for caregivers to administer mouth care on an older adult.

Urinary function in the elderly

This is a sensitive issue that involves a loss of dignity for the person you’re caring for so it is important to approach this matter carefully and respectfully.

If the older adult you are caring for requires assistance with toileting—for instance, if he or she has lost bladder control (incontinence)—it may be uncomfortable for the both of you. Below are a few things to keep in mind to help you cope with this issue:

  • As a person ages, frequency and urgency in passing urine increases.
  • Encourage regular visits to the washroom.
  • If the person in your care is cognitively impaired, look for signs of restlessness or agitation as this may be a sign that toileting is necessary.
  • Decrease fluid intake after 6pm.

Elderly vision changes

Older adults are at an increased risk for glaucoma, and macular degeneration. This may put the elderly person in your care at a higher risk for falls and other accidents. Older adults also have an increased risk of developing cataracts and other eye disorders, so early identification of visual changes is very important in order to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment. Schedule regular eye exams (this may be covered by provincial or private health care plans), and ensure that glasses and other vision aids are clean and accessible. If decreased vision is an issue, consider all of the safety issues in the home and address them right away. See our Elizz article on Home Safety Tips for Seniors and Caregivers.

Contact the CNIB if you are caring for an older adult who is vision-impaired and would like to receive more support and information.

Elderly hearing loss

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2006, more than 50 per cent of Canadians over 65 have hearing loss. Here’s what you should do if you are a caregiver caring for an older adult with hearing loss:

  • Make and maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t shout – speak clearly and at a regular pace.
  • Make sure the environment you are in is free of background noise.
  • Ensure hearing aid is worn and is working properly.
  • Avoid build-up of wax.
  • Schedule regular hearing exams (this may be covered by provincial or private health care plans).

For more information and support check out the Canadian Hearing Society.

Helping the elderly sleep better

We all know the importance of sleep – for both the person we are caring for and for the caregiver. Older adults experience lighter and more interrupted sleep, which may cause early awakening. Changes in sleep patterns in the elderly may be related to problems with pain, coping, depression, anxiety, or other physical and mental issues.

Here are some helpful tips that caregivers can use to help the elderly person in your care get better quality sleep:

  • Help them get regular exercise early in the day.
  • Avoid prolonged day time naps.
  • Try to stick to regular sleeping times.
  • Avoid alcohol at night.
  • Reduce caffeine intake (none after 6pm).

Visit the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists for more sleeping tips.

Adapted from Dr. Rory Fisher – Caring for Caregiver Education Program




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