Nutrition in Older Adults: What it Could Mean When They Overlook Their Diet

Oct 18, 2022
nutrition in older adults

Nutrition for older adults is so critical as the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients decreases and eating a balanced diet becomes even more essential. This is especially true for those who have chronic health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Maintaining a good diet is increasingly important for seniors but can be challenging for some. If you think your loved one isn’t able to prepare balanced meals like they used to, it may be time to consider other options.

Eating well and getting enough nutrition is something many people do not realize becomes more and more important as they get older. Nutritional needs change as does how the body processes food, and physical challenges may make it harder to get food, prepare meals and even to eat them. It’s important to know why adequate nutrition in older adults can become more difficult to achieve and what can be done to make it easier for loved ones.

Changing physiology

Needless to say, our bodies change throughout our lives and in later years there are several changes to be aware of concerning nutrition in older adults including:

  • Lowered ability to certain absorb nutrients like vitamins D and B12, folate (aka folic acid), calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
  • Lowered production of digestive acids in the stomach which can hamper good digestion.
  • Weakened muscles in the esophagus which can cause problems swallowing.
  • Fewer taste buds and an impaired sense of smell that makes food taste bland.
  • Poor dental health (e.g., painful gums or ill-fitting dentures) that makes chewing difficult or painful.

Even just one of these problems can make eating a healthy diet a challenge for seniors to the point that they may even avoid eating as much or as often as they should. Learn more in the article, “How Does Aging Affect the Digestive System?

Outside influences on nutrition in older adults

For many seniors getting the right kinds of food and preparing healthy meals every day can be a burden. When mobility is impeded, just going to the grocery store, bringing heavy bags of food home and putting them away can be taxing to the point that a senior may avoid the whole process in favor of unhealthy snacks.

Good nutrition in older adults can also be challenged by dietary restrictions such as for chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease, which can make eating right even more difficult for seniors. Just trying to figure out the right balance of fats and carbohydrates and other staples of the food supply can be a daunting task for anyone, but especially for seniors. Other conditions impacting nutrition in older adults include dementia which can cause confusion making a senior think they already ate or they may just forget unless someone is there to remind them. For seniors with cancer, loss of appetite is common and can be caused by medications but also by depression, fatigue or pain.

Even daily medications can have an impact on the desire to eat, especially if they cause nausea or loss of appetite, so the side effects of each medication should be reviewed with a doctor or pharmacist. When any outside influence on appetite is suspected, the article, “Loss of Appetite in Elderly: Symptoms, Causes, and Natural Treatment” may offer helpful tips.

Signs of poor nutrition in older adults

It isn’t always easy to recognize the lack of nutrition in seniors but there are several signs to keep a lookout for. According to the National Council on Aging article, “The Face of Malnutrition May be More Familiar Than You Think,” signs can include weight loss, fatigue and tiredness, loss of appetite, swelling/fluid accumulation, and reduced food intake. Keep in mind that symptoms can occur slowly and/or intermittently so it may take extra attention to find out if malnutrition is indeed a problem. It is also notable that seniors who don’t want to burden their families may share how they are feeling or how little they are eating.

Caregivers can help by providing nutritious meals, stocking kitchens with healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and sharing meals with them. This provides the time to not only observe how well they eat and any problems they may have, but also to help stave off loneliness, one more condition that can impact appetite and overall health and well-being.

Make a move to great nutrition

For many caregivers, keeping a senior well-fed and healthy while caring for a family and career can be overwhelming. Making and delivering meals, grocery shopping, and other time-intensive tasks can take their toll. But in a senior living community like Ganton’s Countryside, excellent nutrition is a given and residents can expect not only wonderful, chef-inspired meals (even for special diets) but also the comradery of friends to enjoy them with.  In addition, senior living offers help at hand when a resident needs help eating and allows staff to keep an eye on residents who may have nutritional concerns. For a look at what else to expect in senior living, read our blog, “Top Qualities of the Best Retirement Communities in Michigan.”

For more information about Countryside, please call Margaret Nagel at (517) 206-5000 or download our brochure to learn about our care levels, cost, and amenities.

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