Article by aging.com
Nutrition can be especially confusing for seniors, but of course these days nutrition is confusing for everyone. Every month a new study comes out that revises our understanding of what, and how much, we should eat. And even when experts agree on nutrition advice, it can be next to impossible to understand how to apply that advice to senior nutrition.
The confusion isn’t just about what seniors eat: it’s also about what they don’t. Because aging affects all systems in the body, seniors frequently have additional challenges to face when it comes to eating properly. Illness, disability, and isolation can prevent seniors from getting the food they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and even some of the more common effects of aging, such as the loss of taste and smell and the loss of appetite, can make seniors less interested in taking in calories and nutrients.
Unfortunately, nutrition is just as important for seniors as it is for younger people: undernourished seniors can have problems fighting infection, experience cognitive issues, and suffer from the sort of muscle weakness that can put them at risk for catastrophic falls.
Fortunately there are ways to address all these issues, and, armed with those strategies, and with a full understanding of how standard nutrition advice can be modified to suit seniors’ unique needs, there’s no reason why age should prevent an otherwise healthy senior from getting all the nutrition they need—or, if they’re fighting illness or injury, getting the nutrition they need to heal.
Lack Of Appetite
Now to consider physical barriers to good nutrition. The first sounds simple: lack of appetite. To a certain extent, the loss of appetite among seniors is understandable, and possibly benign: aging tends to cause loss of muscle mass; the loss of muscle mass means seniors need fewer calories, and this naturally causes older people to be less hungry. The problem, however, is that it’s difficult to maintain healthy levels of vital nutrients—vitamins, minerals, and essentials like protein—as your intake of all foods decline.
Other factors in loss of appetite are less benign, however. As we get older, we start producing less of the hormones that trigger hunger in our bodies, meaning that we can even start to get fewer calories than we need to maintain ordinary activities. Older people are also likely to be taking medications that suppress appetite or even cause nausea. What’s more, GI issues and other infirmities can also cause seniors to lose their appetite.
Loss Of Sense Of Smell And Taste
Another related effect of aging is our tendency to lose our senses of smell and taste. Younger people don’t have to wait until they get to the table to appreciate the smell of cooking food: older people, however, may not appreciate kitchen aromas, and even when they’re eating, they may not enjoy the taste or smell of their food as much as they used to. Unfortunately, too, some medications can dull the sense of taste, and so again they may contribute to seniors’ disinterest in food.
Quite apart from actual GI illnesses or the side effects of illnesses elsewhere in the body, our GI system tends to run into problems simply because we’re getting older. As we age, our intestines become less efficient at absorbing nutrients. Digestion slows, too, and as our stomachs take longer to empty, they cause problems like reflux and heartburn, and can make gas issues more likely. What’s more, as appetite decreases for other reasons, so does our intake of the fiber essential for good gut health, leading to a vicious cycle in which poor nutrition leads to digestive issues that then lead to poor nutrition.
Related to gut problems are problems elsewhere in our GI system, particularly with chewing. As we get older, we lose muscle mass everywhere, even in our jaws, and this can make both chewing and swallowing more difficult. What’s more, age can lead to dental issues, and this, too, can interfere with seniors’ ability to chew—and, by extension, cause problems in their digestive system.
Disabilities And Mental Health
More than 38% of people over 65 had at least one disability as of the last census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And physical disabilities can also take a toll on nutrition: They can prevent seniors from being able to shop for food or prepare their own meals, and can, in some cases, even prevent them from feeding themselves. And cognitive issues like dementia can also get in the way of seniors’ ability to make their own meals, even when other functions aren’t affected. Finally, many seniors struggle with depression, and depression often leads to a lack of appetite.
Please contact Serenity Home Health Care & Rehab with any direct questions.