Elderly Nutrition: Changing Dietary Needs

Elderly Nutrition: Changing Dietary Needs

As we age, our dietary and nutritional requirements change. Just as we alter daily recommended allowances and caloric intake from our teens to our adult years, we must also make the adjustment in diet heading from our adult years into our senior years.

A change in elderly nutrition as we age helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and gastrointestinal diseases, just to name a few. Life expectancy in the United States averages about 73 years for men and 79 years for women, a trend that is expected to increase, with more individuals staying active into their eighties than ever before.

Elderly Nutrition with Fruit

According to recent research, the number of elderly individuals 65 years of age or older in the United States alone is expected to double by the year 2030, with more than 70 million seniors.

Meeting Elderly Nutrition Needs of Seniors

The elderly nutrition diets of older adults should ideally include:

  • At least five servings of fruits and vegetables that offer a variety of color (red, orange, yellow, and dark green)
  • At least six servings of fiber-rich and nutrient-dense whole grains as well as fortified cereals
  • A minimum of eight glasses of water of non-caffeinated fluid on a daily basis to prevent dehydration
  • At least three servings of low-fat dairy or alternatives
  • At least two or more servings from beans or meat groups that include dried beans rich in fiber, lean cuts of meat or poultry, eggs, and fish

The need for calories decreases as a person grows older, caused by a decrease in basal metabolism which is also related to reduction of lean muscle tissue mass as well as decreased amounts of physical activity.

Elderly Nutrition

While calories may be decreased as we age, a number of nutrients are essential for health. These include adequate amounts of:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D

Adequate amounts of calcium help to prevent reduced bone mass and improve absorption of vitamins and minerals. Proteins as well as zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin E help to improve immune function while vitamin C, E and beta carotene offer antioxidant benefits as well as improve vision and help reduce macular degeneration and cataracts.

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Aging and Elderly Nutrition

Seniors who do not receive an adequately balanced and nutritious diet may experience a number of elderly nutrition-related issues including changes in body tissues and organs like the bones, heart, lungs, digestive tract, and brain.

Reduced function of cardiovascular, endocrine and gastrointestinal organs may contribute to the overall decline in health of any individual. Common illnesses related to seniors that have been linked to diet include but are not limited to osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes, and diverticulitis.

Malnutrition in seniors can contribute to dental and gum disease, depression, high blood pressure, and irregularities in fluid balances that may affect heart and digestive function.

Elderly Nutrition Pie Chart

Nutrition screening developed by the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy Of Family Physicians and the National Council on Aging have determined a checklist to screen for 10 signs of malnutrition in elderly individuals called "DETERMINE".

  • Disease
  • Eating poorly
  • Tooth lost or oral pain
  • Economic hardship
  • Reduced social contact
  • Multiple medications
  • Involuntary weight loss or gain
  • Need of assistance with self care
  • Elderly person older than 80 years

For a Non-Profit organization that specializes in meals for seniors please see Meals on Wheels

Determining Causes of Malnutrition

In some cases, malnutrition may be secondary to psychological distress or disease processes that include but are not limited to emphysema, high blood pressure, cancer, depression, dementia, and end-stage kidney disease and atherosclerosis.

Caregivers of elderly parents, family, friends or other relatives need to carefully assess the overall nutrition aspects of an elderly parent's eating habits, his or her medications and how they may affect weight loss or gain as well as determining whether a not a parent is receiving adequate intake of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, starches and fats in their daily diet.

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