Elder Care and Holiday Health: Why Seniors Crave Sweets

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Published: 14th January 2011
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With the holidays upon us, you may need to hide the candy from both your children and ... your grandparents!

More and more studies have found many people over the age of 70 crave sweets. Why?

Because as we age, we have fewer and fewer taste buds and over time they become less sensitive. In fact, researchers estimate that by the age of 70 we have lost about 60 to 70 percent of the 10,000 to 15,000 taste buds we have in our prime. The "sweetness" of foods seems to be the last remaining taste for seniors and therefore, the only thing that appeals to them.

Some diseases and medications also have a tendency to affect taste. Parkinsonís and Alzheimerís disease both have been shown to alter the senses of smell and taste. In fact, a reduced ability to identify fragrance and taste is now being used in some diagnostic testing.

So while keeping seniors well nourished is often a problem, getting them to eat desserts isnít. Unfortunately, with those holiday cookies usually comes an unhealthy amount of high fructose corn syrup thatís found in many baked goods, cereals, jams, soft drinks, sauces, condiments and ice creams, which can lead to diabetes and other conditions associated with poor nutrition.

So how do you know what seniors can snack on and what they canít? In order to encourage proper senior care nutrition, first you need to assess how important sugar is to a seniorís daily diet. Sugar is a concentrated source of energy, which means that sugary foods are great for anyone who needs a short-term energy boost, but not appropriate if weight control is a problem, or if conditions such as diabetes exist.

However, weight loss, instead of weight gain, is the issue seniors most often confront. Many older adults experience weight loss due to their lack of taste and smell, digestion issues and problems associated with medication and certain diseases. On one hand, adding a sweetener may entice the elderly to eat foods they seem to have lost interest in, making it easier to achieve proper senior care nutrition. Adding sugar or another sweetener to soups, vegetables and meats can make them more palatable.

But on the other hand, if your loved one is sneaking extra cookies or loading up on ice cream, then caregivers should make an effort to reduce their sugar intake to reasonable levels during other meals. You can do this by switching to foods containing natural sweetness, like fresh fruit. In addition, you should make a point of checking food labels and choosing brands with lower sugar content.

Just remember, itís probably not going to hurt them to dig into that holiday dish for one or two treats, but that ongoing urge for seniors to want something sweet, may be their body playing tricks on them. What we donít want is that seemingly harmless plum pudding or sugar cookie turning into an unexpected visit to the doctor.

Lynn M. Grayson, Public Relations Account Manager for Active Day, Inc., works with more than 50 centers in seven states to help promote the benefits of medical adult day care for seniors and those with disabilities. For more information on Active Day go to www.activeday.com or call the nearest center to you.

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