Last Updated: December 17, 2019
Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born is a naturopathic physician who provides a breadth of expertise about how nutritional needs change as we age.
Eating well is important for good nutrition at any age, but it is even more necessary for older adults because nutritional needs change. Adequate nutrition is necessary for health, quality of life and vitality. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many seniors do not eat as well as they should. This can lead to poor nutrition or malnutrition. Reducing calorie intake can also easily get mistaken as a disease or illness.
There are many reasons our bodies change as we get older, including perceptual, physiological and general age-related conditions. These changes all influence the performance of each person’s body as a whole, which in turn influences our eating, nutritional intake, and overall health.
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Perceptual changes later in life can influence our nutrition, such as changes in hearing, smell, and taste:
One reason nutritional needs change is due to physiological changes that occur later in life:
Other changes in body function may impact nutritional intake, such as:
These factors alone may contribute to why 3.7 million seniors are malnourished. They may also shed light on the importance of educating caregivers and aging seniors on specific dietary need options, as well as catered senior diets and nutritional needs.
Malnutrition is seen in varying degrees in the elderly, along with varying vitamin and calcium deficiencies. Malnutrition is due to undernutrition, nutrient deficiencies or imbalances. Most physicians do not see frank malnutrition anymore, such as scurvy. Instead, they encounter milder malnutrition symptoms, such as loss of appetite, general malaise or lack of overall interest and wellness.
Common deficiencies of nutrients of dietary origin include inadequate intake of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, folic acid, calcium, and niacin. Malnutrition may also be the result of some socioeconomic risk factors, such as the following:
Clearly, good nutrition plays a vital role in the quality of life in older persons. This is why preventative medicine and focusing on good eating habits is crucial.
Health professionals recommend following a preventative health maintenance nutritional program, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It describes two eating plans:
The USDA Food Patterns recommends that people 50 or older choose healthy meals every day from the following:
Ensuring adequate nutrition and proper intake of fats and nutrients will help keep older adults feeling more vital, and ultimately, more healthy. This form of prevention is far more effective than intervention later down the line.
You can also learn more about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services DASH eating plan to decide whether it’s right for your loved one.
Dysphagia describes the condition where someone may have difficulty swallowing. In most instances, the person may struggle to swallow solid foods. However, the University of Michigan confirms that people may struggle with swallowing liquids as well.1 This is why some people may appear to choke on water.
When older adults struggle to swallow solids, pureeing the meals helps to make swallowing easier. Ironically, the same solution also works for ensuring water intake in people who choke on liquids, because pureeing thickens the liquid. Eating pureed meals reduces the risk of dehydration while also helping to resolve swallowing problems.
The University of Virginia also recommends using milk or nutrition shakes to puree food.2 This helps older adults to increase their intake of calcium and other healthy fats. Essential nutrients, such as Calcium, is important for the body for all life stages, but particularly for the elderly, whose bones become more brittle as they get older.
Health speakers are not difficult to come by, but not all of them are qualified to deliver lectures on eating well and choosing the right meals to get healthy calories. It is always best to check the qualifications of the person you choose to work with to ensure he or she is a nurse, nutritionist or licensed medical practitioner.
Here’s how you can find one:
About the Author
Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born is a licensed naturopathic physician in California and Connecticut and is an active member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Born Naturopathic Associates, Inc. is the prime location in Alameda, California, for integrative medical care for patients of all ages and genders, for acute and chronic conditions. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please visit: www.bornnaturopathic.com or call 510-550-4023.
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1Healthwise. (2018). Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). University of Michigan. Retrieved from: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tp23477spec
2Patient Food and Nutrition Services. (n.d.). University of Michigan. Retrieved from: https://medicine.umich.edu/sites/default/files/content/downloads/meal-planning-soft-diet.pdf