Post-acute care has become an increasingly popular solution for healthcare providers and individuals to reduce the chance of readmission to hospitals among seniors. Often, when seniors are ready to be released from the hospital following a surgery or care for a chronic illness, they’ll transition to a post-acute care program instead of returning home. Post-acute care benefits seniors because they have more time to recover in the presence of healthcare professionals. They can receive medication management and rehabilitation services, as well as support with daily tasks, such as eating, which might be difficult during their recovery.
Nutrition is a critical factor in recovery for those in post-acute care. Peggy O’Neill, Director of Sales and Marketing at Lions Gate, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Voorhees, New Jersey, says that nutritional intake can greatly influence a senior’s recovery. “Because the body is working intensely during periods of recovery,” says O’Neill, “it needs to be properly fueled in order to function at its best. However, even healthy seniors experience natural conditions that decrease nutrition as they age. Seniors in post-acute care need nutritional support and oversight to ensure their greatest health possible to recover fully.”
Nutritional Needs During Post-Acute Care
For seniors in post-acute care, either at a skilled nursing facility, rehabilitation center or at home, the need for proper nutrition is greater than normal. In addition to the conditions typical of aging, those recovering from surgery or illness face many challenges in obtaining the proper amounts of nutrients they need to regain health. Some of these include:
- Slowed metabolism – As we age, our metabolism naturally slows, making it more difficult for our bodies to absorb the nutrients we put into them.
- Decreased appetite – Seniors often experience loss of their senses of taste and smell, making it hard to work up an appetite.
- Decreased activity – The less energy our bodies use up, the less we feel the need to refuel. Seniors, especially those stuck in bed, often lose their appetites as a result of inactivity.
- Medication side effects – Seniors on heavy medication regimens may experience negative side effects, such as nausea, cramping, heartburn and more, that make it difficult to eat.
- Lowered immune system – Seniors still recovering from a surgery or illness often have compromised immune health, due to the fact that the body is in overdrive in certain areas, healing wounds or organs. During times of recovery, seniors experience a higher risk of additional illnesses, but proper nutrition can boost immune health.
- Depression – Seniors may experience periods of depression following severe illness or surgery. Whether due to significant pain, medications or mental health, depression can take away both appetite and a person’s desire to eat.
10 Tips for Increasing Nutrition for Seniors in Post-Acute Care
Because of the many factors that threaten seniors’ nutritional intake while receiving post-acute care, caregivers need to pay close attention to their diet and nutritional health. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, nutritionists, dietitians or care staff committed to nutritional oversight play a major role in the success of post-acute care programs.
Whether you or a loved one are receiving post-acute care at a skilled nursing or rehab facility or from care professionals at home, be sure to pay attention to nutritional intake. If you notice signs of poor nutrition – weight loss, refusal to eat, additional illnesses – talk to your loved one’s doctor right away and speak to their caregivers to discuss possible strategies for increasing nutritional intake. If you are in charge of caring for your loved one’s daily needs while they recover, the following tips may be helpful to ensure your loved one receives the proper nutrients.
Henry Ford Allegiance Health suggests the following ways to increase seniors’ nutritional intake:
1. Pack meals with nutrients – Nutrient-rich foods should be the focus of your loved one’s meal. Stews, casseroles and roasts are good ideas for seniors who need both easy-to-eat comfort food and high levels of nutrients.
2. Add big calories to small meals – Especially if your loved one’s appetite is small and getting them to eat enough is a struggle, there are ways to add more calories without adding more volume to their meal. Consider adding sauces, gravies and cheese, or mix in powdered skim milk or wheat germ into cereals or baked goods.
3. Add extra flavor – If loss of taste or smell makes food less appetizing to your loved one, try cooking with lots of spices. Consider salt-free seasonings, such as garlic, basil, oregano, cilantro, rosemary or low-sodium seasoning blends.
4. Make food colorful – Bland, white food can quickly become unappetizing if served often. Try colorful alternatives, like mashed sweet potatoes instead of regular mashed potatoes, which are also packed with nutrients! Instead of plain butter or gravy, use bright red sauces. Add in colorful vegetables to casseroles or soups.
5. Serve small meals more frequently – Rather than making your loved one’s nutritional opportunities depend on a few big meals a day, consider serving smaller meals or snacks frequently throughout their day. Big meals can be overwhelming to someone without the desire to eat, but nibbling on healthy snacks and eat small portions can seem more manageable.
6. Avoid non-nutritious fillers – It can be easy for those in post-acute care to fill up on coffee, tea or soft drinks, which trick them into feeling full. Try to limit these items if your loved one uses them as substitutes for eating.
7. Offer variety – Seniors tend to eat more when they have choices. Try to offer foods from every food group with different colors or invite friends over for a potluck.
8. Make meals social – People often eat better (or at least more) when they’re together. Consider inviting friends over for meals or have family schedule visiting times that coincide with mealtimes.
9. Use supplements as necessary – Talk to your loved one’s doctor if you still have trouble getting them to eat. A well-balanced diet is ideal, but nutritional shakes may help supplement their diet during difficult times.
10. Enlist help as necessary – If your loved one still struggles getting enough nutrients, reach out to the experts for help. Request or visit a dietitian who can create a specialized meal plan just for your loved one.
A Resource for Trusted Care
“If you could use more guidance for increasing your loved one’s nutritional intake during post-acute care and recovery,” shares O’Neill, “the team at Lions Gate can help. As a continuing care retirement community, we offer both skilled nursing care and rehabilitation services to seniors experiencing a full range of recovery conditions and nutritional needs. Our experienced team would be happy to serve as a resource for you and your loved one as they recover.”
To learn more about Lions Gate and their continuum of care services, contact us today!
Inspiring Wellness Every Day at Lions Gate.
Lions Gate, located in Voorhees, NJ, offers a continuum of lifestyle and care options rooted in Jewish traditions and values. Whether you are in need of Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing or Rehabilitation Services, Lions Gate has you covered.
Our mission at Lions Gate is to enrich the lives of those we serve through quality and compassionate care consistent with our heritage and values. We strive to provide programs and services that inspire well-being, as well as social, cultural and spiritual independence.
As a full-service community rich in wellness programs, meaningful experiences and educational opportunities from Lions Gate University, Lions Gate allows residents to connect with those who share their interests and cherished traditions. Our goal is to provide residents with an active, worry-free lifestyle filled with ways to connect with others, pursue their passions and be engaged in everyday life. While we focus on Jewish customs and traditions, we welcome people of all faiths to the Lions Gate family.
Through our affiliation with Jewish Senior Housing and Healthcare Service, we also offer three senior living communities for those with limited incomes.