Proper nutrition is an issue for everyone. So many health problems could be fixed or completely prevented if we would all just eat the right amounts of the right foods.
But, as we’re seeing high instances of malnutrition in the elderly, we need to make sure the seniors in our lives are eating well.
The topic of nutrition for seniors needs to be looked at from two different angles – how the aging process is affected by nutrition, and how nutrition and eating habits are affected by the aging process.
What we eat affects how we age, so a balanced and varied diet rich in vitamins and minerals is essential. But as people age, all the rules of eating change.
There are a number of reasons why the elderly don’t eat properly.
First, there are physical difficulties. Getting to the store regularly to bring home fresh food can be a struggle for the elderly. The process of preparing food and cooking it properly can be exhausting (chopping vegetables, standing for long periods). Then there’s cleaning up afterwards. Even eating can be physically demanding and they just may not have the energy to finish a meal. A senior with impaired vision or poor motor control may find it difficult to bring the food to his or her mouth. Some may simply forget to eat.
Health issues can also contribute to poor diet. Many medications taken by seniors have side effects that can cause nutrition problems, like loss of appetite or a decreasing of the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
As we age, our relationship with food can change. Food tastes different to seniors. The sense of taste deteriorates with age as taste buds on the surface of the tongue are lost over time. Favourite foods may suddenly taste too salty or too sweet, which can cause a person to lose interest in eating. Some seniors have digestive problems, and some may even lose the the feelings of thirst or hunger, all of which can make eating seem like a chore. The is all compounded by the fact that our bodies become less efficient at absorbing iron, calcium and vitamin B12 from food as we age.
If you are concerned about a senior you think may be malnourished, here is a simple test. Answer yes or no to the following questions:
- Can they go shopping independently?
- Can they prepare and cook their own food?
- Are they eating at least two meals a day?
- Are they eating enough fruits, vegetables and proteins?
- Is their diet varied?
- Do they always remember to eat?
If the answer to even one of those questions is “No”, then some form of assistance is needed.