Episode 45: How to Support Aging Parents with Nutrition and Health

For our first episode of the season, we are excited to welcome Brooklyn Seal, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who has been closely working with seniors in long-term facilities. In this episode, Brooklyn discusses and shares tips on how parents of young children can help support their own aging parents with nutrition and health.


Marciane  0:04 

Hello!  Welcome to “The Healthy Habits, Happy Homes” podcast hosted by the Guelph Family Health Study.

Tamara  0:14 

If you’re interested in the most recent research and helpful tips for healthy balanced living for you and your family, then this podcast is for you. In each episode, we will bring you topics that are important to your growing family and guests who will share their expertise and experience with you.

Marciane  0:30 

Our quick tips will help your family build healthy habits for a happy home.

Tamara  0:41 

Hello, and welcome to Season Five of the “Healthy Habits, Happy Homes” podcast. This exciting season brings two new co-hosts: me Tamara, a registered dietician and PhD student at the University of Guelph…

Marciane  0:52 

… And me, Marciane, a master’s student at the University of Guelph. We are both working for the Guelph Family Health Study, and are thrilled to be your new co-hosts for this season as the podcast continues to provide evidence-based information and quick tips to help create healthy habits for a happy home. We also have another team member on our podcast team:  Patricia.

Patricia  1:13 

Hi, I’m Patricia, a master’s student at University of Guelph, and I am the podcast coordinator who will be doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work. If you have an interesting idea for the podcast or a topic you’d love to hear about, feel free to send me an email at [email protected].

Tamara  1:30 

We have a great season ahead of us with a variety of interesting topics such as supporting aging parents with their nutrition and health, nutrition supplementation, and much much more. We are looking forward to this journey with you and we hope that you’re able to tune in and enjoy Season Five.

In this episode, we talk with Brooklyn a registered dietician with experience working with older adults as a dietitian in longterm care. We’ll talk about nutrition and health for older adults and about how parents of young children can help support their own aging parents with nutrition and health. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Marciane  2:05 

First off, we’d like to welcome Brooklyn to the podcast. To start off, can you please introduce yourself to our listeners by talking about your current role, and how your education and experience has led you to where you are?

Brooklyn  2:18 

Yeah. Hi, thank you so much for having me. So, as Tamara mentioned, my name is Brooklyn Seal and I am a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. I earned my Bachelor of Applied Science and Applied Human Nutrition from the University of Guelph. So, I was actually introduced to the Guelph Family Health Study back in undergrad. I, then, went on to complete my Dietetic Internship combined with a Master of Science in Foods and Nutrition from Brescia University College, and I graduated from this in 2020, just as COVID was beginning, so I’m still fairly new to the field and getting my feet wet with different roles. But, currently, my days are spent juggling three different jobs in longterm care, food service management in diabetes education. And, I just recently wrote my Diabetes Educator exam in May. So for those of you who don’t know, Certified Diabetes Educator or CDE, for short, is a health care professional — it can be a nurse, pharmacist, dietitian, etc, with extensive knowledge and skills in diabetes education. So, this was something I was working towards over the past years, as you do need a minimum of 800 hours working in diabetes prior to writing the exam. 

Tamara  3:43 

Thanks so much Brooklyn for sharing your background with us. It’s really great to hear your knowledge with the Guelph Family Health Study. And, I also had the pleasure of doing my Master’s degree with Brooklyn. So, it’s really a pleasure to have you on today. And, I know in my own experience, as a dietician working in a hospital, it can be very rewarding to work with older adults. So, I’m wondering what inspired you to want to work with older adults, and specifically in longterm care?

Brooklyn  4:05 

Yes, great question. Longterm care really appeals to me because you have the opportunity to build close relationships and build rapport with the residents, their family and caregivers. I know, compared to an acute setting, or, like the hospital, as you mentioned, where a patient — they may be hospitalized for a few days and then out the door, right? So, in longterm care, it’s a little bit different, and although it can be sad at times, I do love listening to the stories shared by residents and gaining that wisdom. I also just love the fact that I play a role in promoting, you know, quote, unquote, a good death for older adults, especially because nutrition is a sole source of connection and pleasure at end-of-life. So, as a team, we try to promote comfort and quality of life as best as possible. 

Marciane  5:02 

Wow. Thank you for sharing all that. What do you feel like in this — as you’re working and with your experience — what are some of the biggest nutritional considerations to consider as adults are getting older?

Brooklyn  5:15 

Uhum. So, a few things do come to mind, you know, such as adequate protein to maintain muscle-mass immune function and skin integrity, or adequate calcium and vitamin D to maintain strong bones and prevent risk of falls. But, I think a common issue I often hear is decreased appetite. As we age and the body starts to slow down, many people find that they can’t eat as much as they used to. However, not eating can cause your body to feel weak or sick, and you may lose that strength, muscle and even bodyweight. So, trying to eat what you can will help boost your mood and energy levels and might even help bring back those hunger cues. So, some tips I have often, that I share with patients are, eating and drinking small frequent meals often because every bite does count. So, fueling up on nutritious snacks like cheese and crackers, yogurt and granola, toast and peanut butter, trail mix , etc. And then, of course, eating more when you do feel hungry and you feel your best. Trying high-calorie drinks, like whole milk, protein shakes, smoothies, or even the meal replacements like Ensure or Boost can help. And then, lastly, moving your body as able, just because physical activity can help to stimulate that appetite.

Tamara  6:53 

Yeah, I think that’s such a great point that you bring up about appetite. I think that’s one thing that we tend to forget is as, you know, as we age as we get older, we don’t necessarily have the same hunger cues that we did when we were younger. So, I think it’s sometimes a difficult transition, especially if we’re talking about, you know, you’re the child of an older adult, and you kind of expect them maybe to eat how they used to and things are kind of changing in the body. So, there’s some really helpful tips that you shared with us about how to, kind of, combat that lower appetite. And, for sure, I love what you said about “every bite counts.” That’s a really good way to put it.

Brooklyn  7:30 

And, I think it’s important, too, to normalize decreased appetite. A lot of people get, kind of, scared, “Oh their loved one isn’t eating as much as they used to.” It is important just to remember that as the body does start to slow down and your metabolism slows down, you don’t require as much as you need when you are growing. But, then it is important, you know, that you’re still getting nutrients, and to obtain a healthy lifestyle.

Marciane  7:59 

Yeah, that’s a great point. I just was remembering when my grandmother was living with us, you know, she really loved to, like, eat the Ferrero Rocher little chocolate balls. And, like, Ensure and just like the snacks, and I think for my siblings, and I, we got scared because she was very frail, and we just saw her kind of snacking a few times until you’re like, “Is that okay? Like, should we encourage her to eat other things that are more healthy?” And my stepmom, who’s a registered nurse, was, like, “At least she’s eating Let’s encourage her to just keep eating something.” And, she really liked going on walks, like, in our nearby lake. So, instead of getting scared, she really had a talk with us and was, like, “Instead of being scared, let’s just cheer grandma on on what she is doing and what she’s able to do.” And so, I really appreciated her, kind of, acknowledging that fear and just talking us through, like, “No, at least she’s eating,” and then we would join her sometimes and eat a Ferrrero Rocher and it was nice.

Brooklyn  8:59 

Yeah, that’s a great point.

Tamara  9:01 

Yeah, one of the things that I remember I would hear frequently when I was working as a dietitian, in an acute-care setting in a hospital, especially with older adults, was that cooking was this really large barrier, you know, whether it was that they would say, you know, they’ve cooked for their whole lives, and they’re just simply kind of tired of it. So, they resort, maybe, to some frozen meals or things like that, that might be a bit higher, and sodium were a bit more processed, or that they were just simply kind of out of ideas, right? They didn’t have, kind of, anything left that was new and exciting that they haven’t tried before. But also, another barrier was that they had a lot of food waste, because they’re used to cooking, you know, for a family, like more than one or two people in some cases. Right? So, acknowledging that this is a difficult transition, how can individuals get used to cooking, like, for maybe one to two people?

Brooklyn  9:49 

Hmm, yeah, definitely a big adjustment. I find, even as a younger adult, it’s still challenging to shop and cook for one. But, I would encourage you to think about meals and snacks you enjoy and then start planning around this if you are an older adult. So, first, you know make a grocery list to help you remember foods you need. If you are shopping on a budget, some grocery stores do offer discount days for seniors. If transportation is an issue, delivery services are becoming more common, or, you could ask a friend or family member to help. And then, in regard to cooking, trying to prepare meals and snacks on days when you have the most energy. On days when you are too tired to cook choosing recipes that only use a few ingredients and require little to no cooking is good. For example, eggs and toast or just pasta and meat sauce. And then, another great strategy is to “cook once, eat twice.” So, making meals that are great as leftovers or make larger amounts and freeze the extras for later. You can also check out resources and services in your community like meal and food delivery services, group meal programs, cooking classes and community kitchens.

Tamara  11:19 

Right. Yeah, those are some really great tips, especially with checking out what’s available in the local community. Some of the meal delivery services, like you mentioned, like something like Meals on Wheels might be available in the community. And, I know that that’s helpful as well. And, of course, the “cook once, eat twice” is a great, great thing to remember. I try to do that myself, as well. As you mentioned, similar, kind of, when you’re in that young adult stage as well, you’re trying not to waste too much food and it can be challenging to cook for less for sure. But, that’s always a great tip is to cook once and then, kind of, spread it out for the rest of the week. Granted, there’s some free space in the freezer, I guess. Are there any other barriers that you hear from your patients or clients that you work with frequently regarding eating a nutritious diet and living a healthy lifestyle in general in this population?

Brooklyn  12:04 

Absolutely. As you age, your body changes. And, sometimes these changes can impact your appetite, like we discussed, they can decrease your sense of taste and smell, impact your digestion or ability to chew, sorry, and swallow. I know, working in longterm care, those with dementia start to lose their ability to feed themselves, use cutlery, or they even try to swallow without chewing because their brain just doesn’t work as well as it used to. Other changes in lifestyle may mean, you know, you have less income, have to eat alone more often. You might even be caring for a loved one. Or you might even have someone else cooking for you. So, all of these barriers can add a lot of stress and can definitely be difficult to navigate.

Tamara  13:01 

Yeah, for sure. And that’s interesting what you said about the lower sense of taste and smell. Because, I think that’s one aspect of eating that we, kind of, forget about sometimes is, you know, they say you know, “We eat with our eyes first,” that’s, like, a common saying, or even like the smell of food, like, that kind of triggers almost your appetite, in a way too. Right? So, that’s a really interesting point there. And given all these different things like appetite and, you know, some of the more sensory things, too, like, even just, like, feeding yourself and the ability to chew and swallow. What are some of the solutions to these barriers that you’ve seen to be successful in your practice?

Brooklyn  13:35 

So, I do have a few tips in mind. I think it’s important to first touch on dementia just because it is more common as people grow older. About 1/3 of all people aged 85 or older may have some form of dementia or loss of cognitive functioning. If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, some strategies that can help support eating and drinking at mealtimes include providing that verbal cueing if they’re having difficulty, encouraging independence as much as possible. So, providing detailed instructions and choosing tasks they are capable of. Also inquiring about food preferences, but don’t be surprised if these change. I see this all the time. They might say they really enjoy one thing and then two days later, it might be something that they really hate. Being careful of safety issues, right? So, things like forgetting to turn off the oven.  Really assessing if someone is capable of living alone in that sense.  Making use of adaptive devices. So, there’s lots of different tools out there to help with this, like lip plates or different cups with lids and stuff to help that independence. Minimizing distractions and avoiding loud noises. Simplifying the table settings. So, sometimes older adults, if there’s too much on the table, they get confused. So, it’s better to just have less is more. And then, of course, do not rush. And then, for that chewing and swallowing aspect, if you are having difficulties you may be required  dentures, or if that’s something that you just refuse to use,  adding moisture to foods, like gravy, sauces, sour cream, butter, can help make the food go down a lot easier. Chopping veggies and meat into smaller bite-sized pieces. And then, like, avoiding foods like dry, crumbly or hard breads, granola, nuts, crackers, any foods that are higher risk of choking But, it’s just important to get creative in the kitchen.

Tamara  15:53 

Yeah, for sure. That’s a great tip. And I imagined, like even some of these tips that you were saying, in terms of dementia,  it, I think it almost applies to, like, everyone too, right? Like the food preferences. Those seem to change as we age, as you know, young children, as well, will change their food preferences quite a bit often. But, it makes a lot of sense. Yeah, with the taste and the smell aspect, as well. And, even the tip that you provided on minimizing distractions, as well, like, again, that’s definitely useful, I think, for all ages, because it’s easy to get distracted by a screen or whatever it is. So, those are some really helpful tips. For sure. So, thank you for sharing those.

Marciane  16:29 

Yeah, we, definitely, when my grandmother was living with us, had to implement that because there was a time where I was doing some schoolwork, and she was cooking for herself, but also had to help watch my siblings. And like, an hour and a half goes by and I started smelling something burning. We go down. And, the pot is just black. There was rice in there… no more rice anymore. So, it’s just like, Okay, if grandma said that she is going to cook for herself, like multitasking like that is not beneficial. It’s not the most helpful. So, just having — I don’t think we had like a sit-down conversation with her because we didn’t want to make her feel bad — but it was definitely, like, “Okay, let’s not have her babysit and cook at the same time.”  Pick one.

Tamara  17:18 

 For sure, the safety aspect is important in that case.

Marciane  17:21 

And then it never happened again. Well, I did want to ask I know we’re, kind of, we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID. But, it definitely has affected things for the past couple of years. So, I wanted to ask, how has COVID-19 affected the aging population that you work with? And, has it changed the way that you approach their care plans?

Brooklyn  17:46 

Yeah, another great question. I think, similar to any population, the physical isolation has really affected that mental health side of things. I know, in long-term care, we are still dealing with COVID outbreaks, unfortunately, and consequently, residents are isolated to their rooms. So, we really start to see how loneliness impacts eating. And, this is a really important aspect of healthy eating because it’s not always about what you eat, right? It’s also about how you eat. And so, eating with others, socializing and connecting over food is all part of living a healthy lifestyle. And, these cases, I often see isolation lead to decreased oral intake. So, we really try to optimize their nutrition by providing foods they enjoy. I’ll often meet with the residents, ask them what their preferences are. We also have different higher calorie fortified products on hand. So things like fortified mil, puddings or cereals, often try to get some more calories and protein into them. And then, of course, meal replacement drinks, as I mentioned, like Ensure, Boost, Resource 2.0. If needed, I always like to recommend a food-first approach first, but, as a last resort, lots of residents, when they do have decreased appetite, I do find that they drink better than they eat. So then, we implement these drinks if necessary.

Marciane  19:30 

No, great point. That’s so true. I think eating is such a, it’s a social thing. You know, and so many of our social gatherings and big moments can be around food, you know, food is always there. So, definitely that was a great point. And, it’s great to know that they have you to help them to even think through that and to have that as a consideration, and to even ask for their food preferences. I think that’s really awesome.

Brooklyn  19:58  

Yeah, and like you said, like, food like, especially in older adults, and as we start to reach our end-of-life, like you said, food is really all they have. So, it’s important to, you know, provide as much quality of life through the things and social aspect that we can. So, when COVID hits, it is hard, and it is a struggle just to see that taken away from the residents or older adults, but hopefully, like you said, we’ll see some light at the end of the tunnel soon.

Tamara  20:31 

Yeah, for sure. And especially, like, what you were saying, food is kind of something that they have, as they near and approach that end-of-life stage. I think, it’s just, like, so important to remember that food is one of the things that we, kind of, have control over. Like, we can’t necessarily control the things, you know, that happened to us, but with our food choices, there’s still that aspect of, like, I can have a preference and I can, you know, I can kind of choose what I would like to eat.

Brooklyn  20:55 

Right? Yeah, definitely a sense of dignity.

Marciane  20:59 

Uh huh. For sure. Yeah. Great point. Great point. So, thank you, again, for sharing all of that. It does give us great insight into what the aging population faces, in terms of barriers, too, and some helpful solutions, also regarding following a healthy diet and lifestyle. And, we know that making these healthful decisions is most successful with the support of those around us. So, being a child to older adults and parents of young children, brings forth a number of responsibilities between juggling kids, and also trying to help out their own parents. So, I wanted to ask how can parents of young children better support their own parents with their nutrition and health as they age?

Brooklyn  21:43 

Yeah, I think first things first, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself first. Many people do get caught up in taking care of everyone else that their own health starts to suffer. I know, sometimes, it’s easier said than done. But, I just wanted to put that out there. Also, just trying to maximize where you can. So, obviously, ask your loved one what you can do to help. But, you know, if you’re already grabbing groceries for your kids, you could potentially purchase a few more things for your parents, or on the weekend, let’s say, you’re cooking a nice family meal, maybe you can invite your parents over for dinner to join. So, that way, you know, they’re getting that pleasure and social aspect out of the meal. And then, if you do decide to batch cook, let’s say a large casserole or stew or something, you could always pack up some leftovers and give it to your parents to eat or freeze for later. I’m sure they would love you.

Tamara  22:50 

Yeah, for sure. And, I think that, um, I love what you said about the grocery shopping and asking, like, asking your parents, you know, is there anything I can get for you? Because, I think again, that’s kind of what we’ve been talking about. It’s giving them the choice and giving them options. And it, kind of, it helps with that dignity. And also, it, kind of, helps to combat that lack of choice, that is what it appears to be like as you as you get older. So, I think that’s such an easy thing to do is to maybe just ask, like, what they would like, and also, of course, inviting, you know, if it’s possible, and if you’re close to them, you know, in the same geographical region, sharing food is such an important part of combating that loneliness that we’ve unfortunately, you know, heard about and seen a lot of throughout the pandemic. So, something as simple as sharing, like, one meal together can make a really huge difference.

Marciane  23:39 

Yeah, for sure. I also like what you said about taking care of yourself first as well. I’m not a parent yet, but I can just imagine, like, all of the responsibilities you have, and there might be some guilt there that you can’t do everything. So, even just for remembering to do what you can and take care of yourself so that you’re even in a better, you know, mental and physical state to put your all into helping your parents when you can. Well, before we end our episode, we usually ask our guests to share “three take-home tips” for the parents. So, I wanted to ask, what are three quick tips you could share with our listeners so that they can better support aging parents with their health and nutrition?

Brooklyn  24:23 

Yeah, so definitely a lot of different points to consider. But, if I had to pick three quick tips, I think, number one would be to explore the resources in your community. Like, I said before, they are there to help you and your parents, so things like meal and food delivery services, lunch clubs, community kitchens, volunteer service centres to support you with shopping. Take advantage of these, these are there to help you. So, definitely explore those. Secondly, ensure that your parents, or whoever your loved ones, have a variety of healthy foods on hand. It’s always a good idea to stock your pantry with nutritious non-perishable food items like peanut butters, skim milk powder, canned veggies, pasta sauce, canned fish, beans, lentils, rice, oatmeal, all of those things, so that, you know, that way when you can’t get to the grocery store, you do have some items on hand that are really versatile. And then, lastly, I think, always seek out medical advice from appropriate health care professionals and make sure your loved ones are attending regular routine follow ups, checkups, whatever it may be. Because, you know, although older adults are at risk for chronic diseases, they also typically tend to be on several medications, which can lead to food and drug interactions. So, we just want to make sure they are consistently being assessed for nutrition problems early on, in order to get the appropriate education, treatment and services they need.

Tamara  26:13 

Those are some really excellent tips and some great things to remember. I feel like some of the things that you shared with us are kind of easy to forget. Even some of the food items that you were mentioning that’d be a great idea to stock your pantry with are, kind of, things I think that we forget about sometimes, but they’re actually quite nutritious and quite easy to grab and also keep well. So it’s a really great tip there, and an easy take home for our listeners. As well as, you know, the advice to seek help from a health care professional whenever needed as well. For sure. So, thank you so much, Brooklyn, for sharing your time, knowledge and your expertise with us on the “Healthy Habits, Happy Homes” podcast.

Brooklyn  26:47 

Yeah, thank-you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure and I hope your listeners could take home some helpful information.

Tamara  26:56 

Thank you, so much. We hope that our listeners enjoy this episode and we’ll see you next time.