Last Updated on 1 September 2022 by Ray Plumlee
For decades you are advised to take a balanced diet, but when you look around and see people in their golden period, you stagger in your position. Why? Because suddenly, these people stop taking care of their nutritional requirements and stop eating healthy food. The reason is simple – they just don’t feel like eating. People over the age of 65 are more prone to malnutrition because of the continuous aging process and slow metabolic rate.
The older people are not into many physical activities, so their energy requirement is less. Even with a usual meal, they have a feeling of fullness too quickly. That’s the reason older people feel less hungry than the younger ones. So, what to do? Such people need to have certain nutrients up to the level for good and prolong life.
Reasons for Malnutrition in the Elderly
The nutrition problem is different in different age groups. In the elderly, the problem is not that these people eat less, rather it lies in the fact that they don’t get enough nutrients. Moreover, with age, people become vulnerable to different diseases that may result in malnutrition. It may also be possible that poor nutrition in the elderly causes chronic illness. So, in both cases, nutrition and disease go hand in hand. Some factors that contribute to malnutrition are as follows:
The elderly tends to have decreased appetite because of any underlying disease, mental health problems, intake of certain medications.
Improper Functioning of Senses:
As people get older, they experience a reduction in the sense of taste or smell. It is because of different conditions and medications, leaving the elderly feeling unpleasant about foods.
Chewing and Swallowing Problem:
At a certain older age, people start losing teeth that may contribute to malnutrition. Even using a denture becomes a difficult task. So, one finds it laborious to chew well. The muscles start losing tightness worsening the swallowing power.
Older people fail to get more into physical activity as they start becoming weak. Even a simple two or three steps can be tiresome. When they are physically limited and immobile, they quickly feel full after a little meal.
Chronic Diseases and Medications:
Almost every older person at least has one chronic disease for which they are taking several medicines. These medications interfere with food absorption and digestion so, it can lead to malnutrition.
Mental Health Problems:
Elder people have a feeling of loneliness; they think of themselves as a burden. They soon end up having mental illness like depression, dementia, isolation, etc. When nothing’s right with your mind, how can a person eat wholly?
Some Important Nutrients for the Elderly:
Every nutrient has a role in maintaining good health, but older people should be cautious of certain nutrients to lead a balanced and healthy life. Some of the vital nutrients for older people are as follows:
Protein is the basic building block of the human body. Protein contributes to preserving muscle mass, and it has a crucial role in the wear and tear of cells. The most common deficiency found in the elderly is of protein. So, one should monitor the consumption of protein through the following protein-rich foods:
- Nuts and seeds
Older people, 70 or above, should take about 0.8 g of protein per day according to the body weight (kg) of the individual.
Calcium and Vitamin D:
The elderly become weak as their bones tend to be more fragile over time. Calcium and vitamin D are needed to conserve bone density. That’s why it is advised to take the calcium-rich products and dairy items more. Fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, canned fish with soft bones, and fortified plant-based beverages are a good source of calcium. Whereas, fatty fish, such as salmon, eggs, and fortified foods and beverages are rich in vitamin D.
Calcium and multivitamin supplements can be taken but with the advice of a doctor or pharmacist.
Over the age of 50, some people cannot absorb vitamin B12 up to the requirement. So, it’s better to take vitamin B12 supplements if the need arises, but with the consent of a doctor or registered dietitian. Natural sources of vitamin B12 are fortified cereal, lean meat, and some fish and seafood.
To stay healthy, do not cut off fibrous foods. Dietary fiber reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It increases the bowel movement, thereby prevents constipation. Also, it helps to reduce the cholesterol level. Whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits, and legumes are a good source of fiber. Men and women older than 70 should take 30 g and 21 g dietary fiber respectively in a day. If not, ask your doctor to recommend its supplement.
As the elderly have a blood pressure problem, what they could do is to take adequate potassium and limiting sodium (salt) to help to overcome the chances of high blood pressure. One can make foods with herbs and spices to enhance the flavor, but no or little salt should be added. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products have potassium in them.
Last but not least is fat; the use of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats should be made a habit. They are present in foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetable oils, and fish. Avoid the consumption of foods rich in saturated fat and trans-fat for the sake of a healthy heart.
Having a properly balanced life with good health is a right of all, and if it is neglected, the consequences can be life-threatening. It is especially important for the elderly, so if you have such people around, help them in leading a healthy, balanced, and nutrients rich life.
Nutrition & Aging | Aging Matters | NPT Reports
I am chief medical resident doctor in Internal Medicine at a tertiary care hospital. I am also an author and editor at StatPearls publishing, a medical website with thousands of PubMed indexed articles and MCQs.