Nutritional Needs of Older Adults
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Our community is blessed with a very active older adult population. This article is aimed directly at helping understand some of the unique nutritional needs older adults have. I’ll look at implications of nutritional needs, areas of focus, and some tips to help implement some nutritional changes to address them.
What are the implications for nutritional needs? First of all, most people know that eating well is important for good health, and that includes managing weight and preventing illnesses. But in terms of the older adult, this is even more important. “Age is a major risk factor for non-communicable chronic disease (NCDs) such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, dementia, and cancer, all of which have high associated costs of diagnosis, treatment, and care.” Eating healthy can be a predictor of disease as we age, as well as an indicator of recovery after injury or illness.
It’s helpful to go into older age with a good nutritional base, but can still be beneficial if addressed in later years as age related issues are encountered. “Aging-related inefficiencies in absorption and utilization mean that the requirement for some essential nutrients increase, despite lower energy needs.” So, eating well is even more important as appetites decrease and lifestyle challenges become factors; changing family dynamics, medication needs that can hamper nutrient absorption, mobility issues and access to quality foods.
Areas of focus for nutritional needs include: protein, dietary fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, carotenoids (vitamin A precursors), calcium, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamins B-6, B-12, D, and E. These nutrients are commonly low in older adults, but extremely important to help with chronic disease as they age. Because medications are a typical part of aging, many medications can affect the body’s ability to absorb certain types of nutrients. For example, commonly prescribed acid blockers can contribute to vitamin B-12 deficiency.
So, now what? Well, some would say, “Supplement.” With the exception of Vitamins B-12, D, and E, many supplements prove poor in actually helping address nutrient deficiency. Whole foods prove to be much more effective at addressing deficiencies. Unfortunately, the diet and nutritional lifestyle of older adults changes and does not support whole food lifestyle. Many switch to pre-made meals and foods consisting of; refined grain products, added sugar, preservatives saturated fats, and meats that are processed and high in fat. A concentrated effort in buying from the perimeter of the grocery store, preparing meals at home, and having fruits and vegetables available for snacking is key to supporting a whole food, nutrient dense lifestyle, especially as the caloric needs and appetites of older adult lowers.
Armed with the knowledge of nutritional implications, focusing on certain nutrients, and basic ideas of what simple tips to address them both, adults can successfully age with nutrition on their side. Put on the full body of armor and get right with your nutrition for the aging win!
Kim Elsing Greater Green Bay YMCA
Certified Personal Trainer, FNS, Nondiet Weight Management Certified, Trained in Holistic Life Coaching through GAHP (Global Association of Holistic Practictioners)