Tag Archives: Depression Senior Citizens

Senior Diet Solutions: Addressing Multiple Health Conditions

Seniors often have multiple conditions resulting in a thorny diet problem. A good example is the combination of heart problems, diabetes, and renal failure. Heart problems and diabetes call for a for a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat, loaded with vegetables, fruits and whole grains. But when diabetes leads to renal failure, the patient must keep phosphorous, sodium, and potassium to a minimum. Many meats that are high in protein, fruits, veggies and grains are loaded with potassium, a nutrient healthy for most people…but not those in renal failure. How can you make a healthy diet from what’s left?

 The Contradictions

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the diet goals of a patient with chronic kidney disease are to limit fluids, eat a low protein diet, and restrict salt, potassium, phosphorous and other electrolytes. Since it’s difficult to get enough calories on a low-protein diet, kidney patients are encouraged to eat lots of high-volume carbs, including breads, cake, honey, hard candy, and pie…foods diabetics should avoid like the plague.

Diabetics are encouraged to drink plenty of water, eat a lot of vegetables, and eat a diet higher in protein and low in processed carbs, basically the same diet recommended for heart patients.

The irony is that diabetes often leads to heart disease and kidney disease, and the only area where the conditions agree is in restricting sodium. The convergence of all these diverse issues is most common in the elderly, because it takes years for diabetes and other conditions to wreak this level of havoc on the body.

Part of the Problem: Confusing Information from So-Called Experts

While researching, I found a page that seemed authoritative called Nephrology Physicians, LLC, and I’d like to use it as an example of how information gathered on the web can be dangerous. The page contains food lists for Kidney and Renal failure. Sounds good, right? But it’s misleading. It’s broken down by nutrient. Consider this sentence from the low phosphorous section, All Vegetables are Low in Phosphorus. Wow, so kidney patients can eat all the vegetables they want, right? I was suspicious. I chose a few random vegetables and checked them in the nutrition data tracker at self.com. Sweet potatoes, for example, had a whopping 950 mg of potassium. That would be disastrous addition to his diet. To add to the confusion, the carbohydrate count might make a diabetic nervous as well, unless he knew that sweet potatoes are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index.

The lesson here is this: Before following any advice found on the web, make sure it comes from an authoritative source. The American Association of Kidney Patients is a great resource, loaded with information.

 Finding a Solution

To solve this problem, I researched low phosphorous foods and then eliminated foods high in saturated fats, sodium, refined carbs, and sugar. Here’s the result:

Veggies: cabbage, cauliflower, beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, bell peppers, onions, garlic, cucumber, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, turnips, radishes, and watercress.

Fruits: blueberries, raspberries, apples, cranberries, strawberries, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, watermelon, and red grapes.

Proteins: Turkey breast (not processed cooked at home to control sodium and preservatives), egg whites, and fatty, fish like salmon, albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, and rainbow trout. Limit protein intake to 1 or 2 ounces per serving.

Fats: Omega-3 and omega-6 oils, like olive, canola, sunflower, and flaxseed oil.

Grains: White bread products are on the kidney patient diet, including crackers, white bread, pasta, cake, and cookies. Unfortunately, these things are contraindicated for diabetes patients. Address this problem by incorporating small amounts (for example, one slice of bread per meal or a slice of angel cake with berries for dessert). Whole grain products should be avoided.

Dairy: Dairy products should be limited, especially for pre-dialysis kidney patients. Choose low-fat options, like skim milk, no-sugar-added ice cream, plain, low-fat yogurt, and sugar-free pudding. Limit dairy to two 1/2 cup servings per day.

Sample Meal: While researching this topic, I came across a post on a food site that addressed the potential lack of flavor in such a limited diet. Here’s a tasty recipe for Caribbean chicken and veggie kabobs that meets the restrictions for both diabetics and kidney patients.

Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite, and resulting weight loss, are common in kidney patients. Here are a few tips to help keep your patient or loved one’s weight up:

  • Small meals, eaten frequently all day. Big meals can be too much for a sick senior, but tiny plates with just a few appetizing bites are less intimidating and easier to swallow.
  • Cold finger foods. Cooking smells often make sick patients feel sicker. Try cold dishes, like a scoop of egg or tuna salad with brightly colored veggies to use as scoops.
  • Add egg white powder or protein powder to cooked foods or drinks to add nutrition.

 Supplements

Anemia is common to kidney patients, and an iron supplement may be in order. If the patient cannot get enough protein through food sources, a protein supplement will help, but check the label very carefully and bear in mind that supplements made for the seniors, like Glucerna and Boost, or protein powders designed for weight gain, are not necessarily formulated for kidney patients and may contain high levels of potassium, sugar, or some other harmful component.

Since grain products are limited, another concern may be getting enough fiber to keep digestion regular. A limited food list is notorious for gumming up the works. Only after consulting a doctor, choose a natural fiber product that has been thoroughly researched and has no known side effects or drug interactions, like brown seaweed extract.

Before taking any supplement, diabetics, heart patients, kidney patients, or anyone with an illness that requires medications should check with a doctor or nutritionist.

Dialysis

Once kidney disease progresses to the stage where dialysis is necessary, diet restrictions ease up a bit and patients usually find their appetites returning, but a healthy diet should still be the top priority for caregivers and patients.

Depression in Senior Citizens

It is not uncommon for senior citizens to become depressed, and there are distinct ways to tell when someone you know is struggling with this condition. Depression can be triggered by a number of things. It is important when first noticing the signs and symptoms to address the issue immediately. Choosing to ignore the signs of depression can result in conditions that are far more serious, and even life-threatening.

Possible Cause: Illness

An elderly person may become depressed as a result of being chronically ill. Consistently not feeling well physically can directly impact one’s mental state.

Possible Cause: Loneliness

Feeling lonely is a major contributor to depression in senior citizens. Having no one to talk to, being alone more often than not, and thinking that no one cares about them or wants to spend time with them are all effective in promoting a depressed and hopeless state of mind. Seniors facing loneliness start to believe that they are insignificant, unloved, and not worth anyone’s time.

Possible Cause: Boredom

Senior citizens who have lost interest in the world around them will likely become depressed. They are no longer stimulated or inspired by what life has to offer. Self-motivation and enthusiasm are no longer present, and the individual suffers from lack of purpose and a sense of uselessness.

Possible Cause: Fear

Elderly individuals who are close to death may be experiencing fear of the unknown. They are aware that their days are numbered, and they are worried and frightened about what, if anything, will happen to them after they die. This consistent fear of what is to come can easily lead to depression in these individuals.

Signs and Symptoms: A Change in Eating Habits

Many seniors make their depression apparent through loss of appetite. They hardly eat, insisting that they are simply not hungry or they don’t like the dish being served to them.

Signs and Symptoms: Preferring to be Alone

Antisocial behavior in seniors is a sign of depression. Depressed seniors will insist that they want to be alone, and not bothered by anyone or anything. They will avoid gatherings and keep to themselves. Their conversations are limited, and their involvement in outside activities is virtually nonexistent.

Signs and Symptoms: Being Unresponsive

Depressed senior citizens may spend a lot of time staring into space and focusing on their own thoughts.
They are unable, or unwilling, to offer an explanation for the sad look on their face or the tears in their eyes. When asked what is wrong, they have no clear answer.

Signs and Symptoms: Irritability

Crankiness, irritability, and a bitter attitude are common signs of depression in seniors. Unable to handle their own distressing feelings and thoughts, they lash out at undeserving victims who are only trying to help.

Ways to Help: Proper Health Care

A senior citizen who is dealing with an illness should be made as comfortable as possible at all times. Even the slightest of ailments and discomforts should be addressed and taken care of. It is crucial that medications and treatments be administered on schedule.

Ways to Help: Companionship

Even the most reluctant and unresponsive senior needs companionship. Someone talking to them, reading to them, or just spending time at their side is critical in preserving a healthy mental state. Senior citizens should be encouraged to interact with others, particularly those having similar interests and experiences.

Ways to Help: Finding and Rekindling Interests

All seniors have activities and areas of interest that they enjoyed taking part in when they were younger. It may be a hobby, a game that was fun, or a subject that they loved learning about. By the same token, everyone has something that they always wanted to learn or try their hand at, but never got the chance to for whatever reason. Relatives and caretakers should attempt to either rekindle the individual’s former interests, or assist him or her in developing new ones. It is never too late to expand one’s boundaries, and it is both mentally and physically beneficial to do so. Granted, senior citizens are not physically able to do all of the things they used to do when they were young, but this does not mean that they can’t do anything at all.

Ways to Help: Addressing Fear

Senior citizens who are afraid to die should not be left alone with their anxiety and apprehension. They need to be reassured and comforted that they have nothing to fear. This is where religious beliefs play a significant and necessary role. No one should be left feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and dread as they approach death. All seniors should face their dying days knowing that the best is yet to come.

Depression in seniors, if left untreated, can lead to more serious mental conditions, severe physical ailments, and even suicidal tendencies. A suicidal senior citizen may attempt to end his or her own life through self-inflicted bodily harm or starvation. It is unwise to ignore even the slightest indication that something is wrong. Depression is an infliction that should always be taken very seriously.

Editor’s Note:

Depression is a very serious condition that often goes undiagnosed and treated in the elderly. Many of the symptoms of someone slipping into depression are mistaken for a normal part of getting old.

Also, depression has non-environmental causes.  Brain damage, tumors and chemical imbalances can cause depression. Be aware that some prescription medicines can trigger depression.