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Eating well for older people

Advice for elderly people on how to spot and counter weight loss.

Elderly man stood with hands on his hips

How to tell if you, or someone you know, is losing weight

When it’s you, or someone you see every day, you may not always notice change over time. But keep these signs in mind:

  • Are rings looser on fingers?
  • Are shirt collars looser?
  • Do slippers that once fit seem too big now?
  • Are skirts and trousers loose around the waist?
  • Do dentures not fit as well? (gums receding)
  • Are limbs thinner than before?
  • Do belts need to go on a tighter notch?

Other signs to look out for:

  • finding it hard to keep warm
  • suffering from diarrhoea or constipation
  • having dizzy spells
  • suffering from dry skin or pressure sores
  • eating and drinking less than usual
  • having mouth problems - swallowing and chewing, sore mouth or tongue, bleeding or swollen gums, teeth problems, choking problems
  • getting frequent infections
  • finding it hard to shake off colds and infections

If you are underweight

Weight loss or a low appetite can lead to tiredness, depression and a lack of energy which may make you more likely to suffer from infections such as colds, flu.

In order to feel healthy it is important that your diet contains enough energy (calories), protein and other nutrients.

Eating well will help to keep your bones and muscles strong and your bowels regular, while helping you to think clearly.

If you have specific dietary concerns regarding cholesterol, diabetes, coeliac disease or renal disease ask for further guidance from your GP or dietician.

And don’t forget, always get advice from your doctor to rule out any underlying medical reason for weight loss.

Here are some helpful hints

Don't try to eat too much in one go. Aim to have at least 3 small meals each day with 2 or 3 snacks or milky drinks in between.

Small portions are often more appealing and can be followed by a second helping.

Try not to have a drink just before a meal as this may fill you up.

Try to include a pudding once or twice a day. Milk pudding, trifle, custard, cake and full fat yogurt are nourishing choices.

A light meal can be as good as a cooked meal. Try scrambled eggs, beans on buttered toast or fortified soup and a sandwich.

Add variety to your diet and try to include your favourite foods.

Consider using ready prepared meals and convenience foods if you find meal preparation difficult.

Try to ensure that you have a well-stocked freezer and store cupboard.

Individually portioned or wrapped items such as mini-cakes or desserts will minimise food wastage.

Companies such as Wiltshire Farm Foods and Oakhouse Foods can provide frozen meals direct to your door.

Most supermarkets offer a delivery service.

Derbyshire Gold Card holders can get discounts at lots of cafes, pubs and restaurants so eating out doesn't have to break the bank.

Allow family and friends to help you with shopping and mealtimes.

Add double cream to soups, sauces cereals, puddings and mashed potatoes.

Fats and sugars are a good source of energy, so use them generously to increase the amount of calories you eat.

Diabetics should not add extra sugar or honey to their diet.

Make every mouthful count by adding extra nourishment to your food and drink

Add to soup, curry, potatoes, vegetables and sauces:

  • grated cheese
  • butter
  • margarine
  • cream
  • evaporated milk
  • milk powder

Add to drinks, breakfast cereals and puddings:

  • sugar
  • honey
  • jam
  • syrup cream
  • evaporated milk
  • yogurt
  • nuts
  • dried or fresh fruit

Add to full cream milk:

  • fresh or tinned fruit
  • yogurt
  • evaporated milk
  • cream
  • ice cream
  • milkshake powder
  • cocoa
  • drinking chocolate
  • sugar
  • honey
  • syrup 

Getting the balance right so that your body gets a variety of nutrients

Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of fluid each day - this includes fruit juices, milky drinks, tea, coffee and water.

Try to have at least 1 portion of fruit each day and a glass of fresh fruit juice or fruit cordial rich in vitamin C.

Try to include protein foods in at least 2 meals each day such as meat, fish, beans, pulses, dairy foods and eggs.

Try to include an energy food at each meal, such as bread, potato, rice, pasta or cereals.

Have some starchy food with your meals, such as bread or toast, potato, chapatti, rice, pasta or crackers.

Take a routine daily multivitamin. Vitamin supplements alone will not help you to put weight on or improve your appetite but they do help your nutritional balance.

You can buy Build Up or Complan, which have energy and protein in, as well as vitamins. These drinks could be used between meals, rather than replacing your normal meals. Check with your doctor first - they're not suitable for everyone.