Families and friends of elderly adults are often concerned that their loved-one is not eating properly or getting enough of the nutrients necessary for optimum health. In an effort to round out a potentially lacking diet, many caregivers, assisted living homes, hospitals and seniors themselves turn to supplement drinks such as Boost or Ensure.
But what many don’t realize is that in addition to protein and vitamins, the drinks aimed at seniors who have difficulty getting a healthy diet, are also chocked full of sugar. According to the American Board of Internal Medicine’s Choosing Wisely Initiative, high-calorie supplements for treatment of weight loss in the frail elderly is not recommended. Instead, the American Geriatric Society recommends offering seniors social support while providing appealing food and assistance with feeding, if necessary. In some cases, medication that interferes with eating may be discontinued under the supervision of a doctor. Prescription appetite stimulants are also not recommended; they are not proven to improve quality of life or survival and can increase risk of death.
Supplement drinks targeted at seniors are often essentially candy bars in liquid form. Besides adding weight, the sugary drinks most often lack any significant fiber and can cause gastrointestinal upset.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that sugar should account for no more than 25 per cent of a daily diet of 2,000 calories or 125 grams of added sugar each day. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit sugar to 6 teaspoons and men to 9 teaspoons per day. However, it is estimated that the average adult consume 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day.
Often mealtimes are a lonely affair for seniors. Without company, preparing and sitting down to a meal seems pointless. But instead of stocking the panty with supplement drinks, caregivers may want to consider adult day programs that provide meals, Meals on Wheels or other social settings that can help encourage elderly people to eat nutritious foods.
It’s also important to investigate other possible causes of a lack of interest in food among the elderly. It could be ulcers, dementia, depression, a thyroid problem or even dentures that don’t fit properly causing a loss of appetite. Smaller, more frequent meals of foods seniors enjoy can also be a good alternative to nutrition drinks which, like any supplement, could cause drug interactions if not monitored properly.
Always check with your doctor before taking any supplement and be sure to read labels carefully when purchasing any meal replacement bar or drink, often low in fat can mean high in sugar!