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Nutrition For The Elderly

Thursday, October 14, 2010
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Healthy diet, Nutrition and Physical Activity are Critical for Older Adults
Following a healthy diet is important at any age, but adequate nutrition and caloric intake is especially critical during later years of life. Physical activity is especially important for older adults as it helps in improving calcium balance, maintenance of normal bone structure, prevents constipation and elevates metabolism to foster healthy weight control.

The foundation of nutrition for the elderly rests on a well-balanced diet, for it is optimal nutrition that helps delay the leading causes of death.

Additionally, research studies are showing that healthy dietary habits of a restricted calorie intake and with a diet rich in antioxidants may increase longevity.

Aging is a gradual but  continuous process that begins early in life. The World Health Organization classifies people aged between 45 and 59 as 'middle aged', 60 to 74 as 'elderly' and over 75 as 'old'.

Severity and rate of decline in body function varies with each individual. It is a well known fact that the number of aged are increasing in society. It is important to ensure that longevity is accompanied by good quality of life and health status. Nutrition plays a key role in ensuring this. On the other hand, the aging process in turn also affects nutritional status.

Reasons for a lowered nutritional status could be physiological, social or even financial.

Common physiological changes are weight loss or body fat gain, loss of appetite, diminished sense of smell and taste, reduction in basal metabolic rate, and gastrointestinal alterations with reduction in nutrient absorption and utilization. Other common age related changes such as hearing loss, weak eyesight, changes in fine motor skills, strength, coordination and cognition can interfere with the older individual's ability of self care.

Chronic diseases that often plague the elderly can significantly affect nutritional status and needs. Many of these conditions such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, disorders of GI tract (constipation, heart burn, irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer, and gall bladder disease), Diabetic complications (retinopathy, neuropathy, nephropathy etc) and periodontal disease may be prevented or alleviated by good nutrition.

Following a healthy diet is important at any age, but adequate nutrition and caloric intake is especially critical during later years of life as -
  • Older individuals require fewer calories yet overall nutrient needs are the same or increased.
  • Energy needs decline with age partly from diminished lean body mass and subsequent lower basal metabolic rate but largely because of decreased physical activity.
  • As older individuals may  suffer from  bowel problems due to a reduced activity, a  high-fiber diet is advisable. 
  • 8-10 glasses of water also help the gut to function well.
  • Fiber also helps to keep blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels under control.
  • Anemia is common in older adults. Iron rich foods along with adequate Vitamin C intake to help in iron absorption must be given special attention.
  • Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D can help to reduce loss of bone mass. At least 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight in a day along with  calcium and vitamin D rich foods  are a great help.
Physical activity which is an integral part of health maintenance at any age is especially important for older adults as it helps in improving calcium balance, maintenance of normal bone structure, prevents constipation and elevates metabolism to foster healthy weight control.

The overall quality of the diet becomes increasingly important with advancing age. Good eating habits can contribute significantly to better health status in later years of life. A balanced diet may postpone the onset of serious diseases and can improve functional capabilities and overall health of elderly individuals.

Making positive lifestyle changes, at an early age, particularly in eating and exercise habits is a wise investment for old age.

By. Dietitians
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User Comments

03 December, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar Most seniors only get about half of the fibre needed each day for proper elderly nutrition as they tend to eat carbs mainly.

Fibre is needed to keep bowels healthy and regular. It is also great for lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar levels and prevent high blood pressure.

Fibre also has the added benefit of making people feel full for longer which can help to control weight.

Added to it they must drink lots of fluids to help fibre work properly. If one eats lots of fibre and doesn't drink plenty of fluids to help the fibre move through their system, it can result in constipation.

06 December, 2010 | Sethumadhava | Reply

Sethumadhava My dad is 80 yrs old and suffers from constipation problem. His diet is not changed much in the last few years, though his quantity is reduced he still has rice, dhal, veggies, milk and fruit. his water consumption is only 3-4 glasses a day, he does not drink more water because of bladder problem. is his constipation due to the less water consumption?

06 December, 2010 | Poonam | Reply

Poonam Lack of exercise/reduced movement can also cause constipation.

10 August, 2010 | Geetanjali Kelkar | Reply

Geetanjali Kelkar Phytochemical resveratrol found in the skin of red grapes has the ability to suppress inflammation and fight aging shows a new study. It is compound found in grapes, wine, peanuts, blueberries and cranberries. Resvaratrol affects the gene associated with longevity and prevents early aging. It also reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes with its ability to suppress free radicals. Thus including foods rich in resveratrol can help you look younger

10 July, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar Many of the elderly people may have physical emotional or physiological problems which need be attended.Some may have poor dentition and are not able to eat well, some others may not able to digest certain foods like lentils or non veg or even milk for instance.The key is to customise even how a meal is prepared and served apart from ensuring a balance of nutrients. Again reasons apart, some of them maybe lonely or even depressed, so hand holding on the emotional front may also be needed. Just like infants need extra care the elderly need them too

04 June, 2010 | Sangeetha Narayana Swamy | Reply

Sangeetha Narayana Swamy Dear Shyam,

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and beans, generally all plant foods have fiber in them. There are two kinds of fibers, soluble and insoluble, that have different effects on our system.

Soluble fiber is found in fruits like oranges and apples, peas, oats and oat bran, vegetables, flaxseeds and psyllium husks.
Insoluble fiber is present in whole wheat, wheat bran, skins of fruits and vegetables.

Fiber helps to cleanse our system, control cholesterol and weight, relieve from constipation, balances intestine acidity, helps in easy movement of waste through intestines and bowel.

Thank you for your query, please visit NutritionVista.com for more information on Fiber and fiber rich recipes.

Regards,
Sangeetha Narayana Swamy,
Dietitian,
NutritionVista.com

04 June, 2010 | Shyam | Reply

Shyam Hi,
Can someone please tell me few names of few fibre rich foods.

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