Adequate nutrition and a well balanced diet is vital even during old age. In fact it is all the more important as old age brings in its own set of challenges. Nutrition helps to prevent, control and manage many old age hazards.
As one ages, a number of changes occur in the body which affect the nutrient needs, dietary intake and nutrient utilisation and thus have an effect on the nutritional status. These include the following changes:
- Decreased neuro muscular coordination
- Decreased metabolism
- Body composition- less muscle, more fat
- Decreased insulin sensitivity
- Decline in the immune system
- Changes in skeletal tissue
- Changes in the GI tract- reduced saliva and gastric secretion
- Loss of teeth
- Diminished sense of taste and smell
These are the few factors which have a bearing on an elderly person’s ability to meet their daily nutritional needs.
Let us see the nutritional needs of the elderly people.
- With the advancement of age, the energy requirements decrease. But the requirement for other nutrients still remain. The elderly often feel a loss of appetite and we worry when we see our dad or mom eating less and less. But the energy needs do decrease with age. So we should make sure that they eat nutrient dense foods so that there is no nutritional deficiency.
- Carbohydrates are a major source of energy in this phase of life. The elderly should not go on a low carb, high protein diet. They should eat their carbs but stay away from simple carbs like maida.
- Protein intake becomes extremely important at this stage as there is a decrease in skeletal tissue mass. Pulses, nuts (whole or powdered), milk and milk products, eggs, fish should be included.
- There should be emphasis on reduction of saturated fat from the diet as the body is unable to tolerate and digest too much fat. Use MUFA rich oils like rice bran and mustard oil.
- Calcium needs increase especially for women. Women over 50 years of age require more calcium as there is increased loss resulting in dimineralization of bones and osteoporosis.
- Water accounts for approximately 50% of an older person’s weight. As people age, some are prone to dehydration because our sense of thirst may not be as sharp. The elderly should be reminded to sip water regularly to avoid urinary tract infections, constipation, and even confusion.
- Other vitamins like B12, vitamin D and zinc are also very important. Consult a doctor periodically for the same.
So now we know about all the nutritional requirements. But sometimes, physical factors like loss of teeth or poor digestion affect the whole process of consumption. In such instances some modifications need to be made to the food to facilitate easy consumption.
- The diet should comprise of small, frequent meals containing easily digestible foods.
- Due to the loss of teeth (and especially if dentures are not used), modification in consistency becomes mandatory.
- The diet should be soft, well cooked and should include foods that require little or no mastication like milk, milk products, soft cooked eggs etc.
- Food should be colourful and tasty so as to stimulate the appetite.
- Healthy smoothies can be served.
- The quantity served at a time should be decreased and the frequency should be increased.
- Avoid high fat foods like sweets and fried foods.
- Include liberal amounts of green leafy vegetables.
- Include healthy soups in their meals for ease and variety.
- Salads can be grated and served.
These are few ways in which we can modify the diet of the elderly. Apart from this :
- They should be encouraged to be physically active and indulge in some sort of exercise as per their health status.
- They should be part of some group with similar aged people. Connecting with peers is good for their health. It brings happiness and a sense of belonging.
- Regular check ups are a must.
- They should take their supplements.
Providing a nutritious diet to the elderly will keep them free from most of the diseases and they would be able to have a better quality of life. A proper diet, physical exercise and a pleasant environment are important for adding healthy and happy years to the life of the elderly.