As people age, their diets may need to change, especially if their diets are not well-balanced. Generally, doctors will recommend a well-balanced diet for elders, meaning that they should eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains to maintain and improve overall health. According to Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, in addition to eating a healthful variety of foods, there are specific things a caregiver can incorporate into their elder’s diet to boost his or her health.

Prepare meals rich in these nutrients:

Omega 3 fatty acids
The acids have been proven to reduce inflammation, which can cause heart disease, cancer and arthritis. They can be found in many different types of fish and in flaxseed oil. Your elder should have foods rich in this nutrient twice per week. If this is impossible, check with their doctor to see if an Omega 3 supplement would be beneficial.

Calcium and Vitamin D
The need for calcium and vitamin D increases as people age. This is primarily to preserve bone health. One added benefit of calcium is that it helps to lower blood pressure. Adults over the age of 50 need at least 1200 milligrams per day of the nutrient – equal to about four cups of milk per day. Many people find it challenging to consume this much calcium per day by eating and drinking, so check with your doctor to see if he or she should take a calcium supplement.

Limit sodium content
Most elders have hypertension – high blood pressure. One of the most important things caregivers can do to help reduce a elder’s hypertension is to prepare foods with low sodium. Most people are surprised to know that table salt accounts for only a small percent of sodium content in food. Avoid giving your elder frozen, processed or restaurant food, as these are extremely high in sodium. The foods with the lowest sodium content are fruits and vegetables, so try and incorporate them as much as possible in their diet.

As people age, they do not get thirsty very often, even though their bodies still need the same amount of liquids. If you notice that your elder is not drinking liquids very often, make sure that you provide them with it. If they do not feel thirsty, chances are they may not think about drinking a glass of water.

If you are concerned that your loved one may not be properly hydrated, check his or her urine. Urine is the surest sign of hydration or lack of it. If the urine is clear and light, then your elder is most likely properly hydrated. If, however, urine is dark and/or cloudy, your elder will need to start drinking more liquids.

Making dietary changes can be difficult for anybody. It can be especially difficult for elders, though, because people get stuck in habits. If your elder needs to make dietary changes to increase their health and well-being, there are specific things that you, the caregiver, can do to help with the change.

Incorporate changes gradually
Older people are usually skeptical of change. They need to make small changes gradually. As the caregiver, you should reinforce this and make sure that your elder is incorporating the new foods into their diet.

For example, if your loved one is diabetic and needs to adjust their carbohydrate intake consistency, incorporate oatmeal as breakfast once or twice per week. As they get used to it, oatmeal can be added to three to four times per week. If your loved one normally eats white bread, give them a wheat bread sandwich a couple times per week, and gradually increase it so that white bread is completely cut out of their diet.

Set an example
When an elder has to change their diet for health reasons, they can feel singled out. Eating is a social activity and it is important to eat meals with your loved one. It is equally important that when you eat with them, you eat the same foods as them. When sitting down for a family meal, don’t make a special meal for the elder and something different for everybody else. By eating with them and eating the same foods as them, the dietary changes being made won’t seem so drastic.

Make smoothies
Sometimes older adults simply refuse to make necessary nutritional changes, even if they are doctor recommended. People with dementia, especially, may refuse to eat certain things. Be creative. If your elder needs protein, try making them a smoothie with wheat germ – this is not a supplement that may interact with your loved one’s medications, but an actual food with very high amounts of protein. Sometimes, foods can be blended into a smoothie to ensure that the elderly consumes the necessary nutrients.

For more information on healthy eating habits for your elderly loved one, visit the American Dietetic Association website.