Nutrition for Elderly People
It’s very important for everyone to adhere to a well-balanced diet, especially so for older people who may require home care and whose nutritional requirements will have altered with age. A proper diet helps people to maintain good health, which is especially important in older age as the body naturally weakens, but some reports indicate that 25% of older adults have poor nutrition. Malnutrition makes your bones more brittle and leaves you more susceptible to dangerous diseases. Therefore, it’s essential for older people (and indeed everyone) to intake the right quantities of key nutrients, understand their changing dietary needs and maintain a consistently healthy diet.
Essential nutritional drinks & food for elderly people
• Fruit & vegetables: Aim for five servings per day (can be fresh, frozen, tinned or dried) and try to have a mixture of colours, i.e. alternate between apples/tomatoes, bananas/sweet corn and green peppers/broccoli.
• Protein: Lean meat, poultry and fish all provide essential protein. Salmon, sardines, trout, fresh tuna, chicken, beef and ham are usually the best options. If you’re vegetarian, protein can be derived from beans, eggs and nuts.
• Carbohydrates: Try to include one carbohydrate food in each meal. You could have cereal and bread at breakfast time, bread/pasta at lunchtime and potatoes or rice as part of dinner.
• Dairy: Low-fat dairy items such as milk, yogurt and cheese help to keep bones healthy through the prevalence of calcium.
• Fats: Heart-healthy fats are important to retain a balance in your diet, although the sources of fat need to be chosen carefully. Olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, walnuts, cashew nuts, almonds and hazelnuts are healthy, unsaturated sources of fat, provided they are consumed sparingly.
• Fluids: It’s recommended that you drink eight glasses of fluid per day (ideally water, milk and fruit juices) to prevent dehydration, tiredness and constipation.
This video talks about the nutrients that should be included in an older person’s diet and why these are so important.
Nutritional requirements for elderly people & changing dietary habits
As people get older, their dietary habits will change significantly, including their nutritional requirements and their appetite.
• Calories: You’ll need fewer calories in your senior years for maintaining a healthy weight. A reduction in energy, mobility and muscle mass will cause metabolism to slow down, thus lowering your calorific needs.
• Appetite: Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications could have side effects which contribute to falling, such as drowsiness, dizziness and low blood pressure. Sedatives, antidepressants, opioids and some cardiovascular drugs are the most likely medications to spark these problems.
• Medical conditions: As you get older, you may become more susceptible to chronic health problems such as osteoporosis and high cholesterol. Your doctor might advise on dietary changes to minimise the risk of being diagnosed with these conditions (e.g. you might be advised to cut stronger foods like onions and peppers out of your diet).
• Medications: You might be required to take certain medications to help with chronic health conditions and some of these could affect your appetite. For instance, a type of medication could preclude you from consuming certain foods or drinks.
• Immune system: Your immune system weakens with age, which increases the risk of food-borne illnesses. In this case, you might need to take extra care with your diet and avoid certain foods or drinks.
• Home life: The loss of a partner or family member can lead to depression and your eating habits may change consequently, maybe because he/she usually prepared meals or you find it difficult to summon the enthusiasm to eat.
Malnutrition in elderly people
It is common for people aged 70 and over to not eat enough nutrients to fulfil their dietary needs. A slowdown in metabolism reduces the amount of energy that the body uses from doing various activities, which can also lead to a diminished appetite. Even seniors in good health generally don’t become hungry as easily as children and younger adults, and while this can be a good thing if less fats are eaten, a severe loss of appetite could trigger a dangerous level of undernutrition.
Malnutrition could have serious consequences for a person’s health, including loss of muscle, exhaustion, greater risk of falling, increased vulnerability to infections and aggravation of chronic illnesses. It could also impact a person’s quality of life if their ill-health causes them to feel miserable mentally as well as physically. Malnutrition can stem from numerous factors, including:
• Physical illness
• Mental illness
• Neurological disease (e.g. dementia)
• Dependency on others for nourishment
• Oral or dental issues
• Side effects from medications
• Surgical procedures
Healthy eating tips for older adults
Eat foods with plenty of nutrients
Foods which are rich in nutrients pack plenty of vitamins and minerals into portions that are light on calories, which is ideal for the physique of an older person whose body needs just as many nutrients but fewer calories. Ideal, nutrient-rich foods include:
• Fruit & vegetables (try eating as many colours as you can)
• Wholegrains (oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, brown rice)
• Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
• Lean meat
• Nuts & seeds
Conversely, older people are advised to avoid foods that are high in calories but lacking in nutrients. These include food and drink with high sugar content, foods with a high amount of saturated fat and anything made from refined grains (e.g. rice, pasta, white bread).
Control portion sizes
• Avoid eating while watching TV or sitting at a computer. It can be very easy to eat more than you need when you’re distracted.
• Pay close attention to the nutritional labels on food and drink packaging to see how many calories are in a serving of each item.
• Freeze portions so that you’ll have these for days when you don’t feel like cooking and might otherwise be tempted to indulge in takeaway food.
• Try to eat meals with friends or family as much as possible. When dining with good company, you’re more likely to keep portion sizes under control than if eating alone.
Ask your healthcare provider about healthy eating plans
It is advisable to consult your healthcare provider or dentist if any of these situations applies to you:
• You find it difficult to chew
• You often don’t feel like eating (possibly because of difficult life events)
• You have trouble with dentures
• You think your medicines might be affecting your appetite or the taste of your food
• You think you need a daily vitamin such as iron or vitamin C