Dr. Poblete says the normal action of the digestive tract slows down in the elderly. Other changes in gastrointestinal functions include constipation or poor absorption of nutrients.
Changes in neurological function like dementia can affect eating behavior. There’s indifference or lack of interest in food, failure to remember to eat, or failure to recognize the need to eat. Others may have abnormalities in eating behavior, like holding food in their mouth for prolonged periods of time or not chewing.
Psychosocial problems like isolation can reduce the appetite. These can all lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Energy requirements also decline with age. More diseases or illnesses are diagnosed as one grows older. These factors increase the risk of nutritional deficiency.
Dietary requirements in aging
Older individuals have more body fat and less lean muscle mass. The challenge is to meet the nutrient requirements while consuming fewer calories. The best way is to choose foods that are nutrient-dense. Lower fat intake is recommended. Refined carbohydrates and high sugar should be cut down as glucose tolerance decreases with aging. Dietary fiber intake should also be increased. The best sources are vegetables and fruits, which are also rich in vitamins and minerals. Supplements may be advised by your doctor if necessary.
Water shouldn’t be neglected as an important nutrient. It reduces stress on the kidneys and can help ease constipation. Elderly individuals shouldn’t wait to drink until thirsty, since the ability to detect thirst also declines. Light-colored urine is a good sign of adequate hydration.
As with any other age group, eating a variety of foods can help one stay healthy. In aging, more protein, fiber, calcium and vitamins are needed. Fat, sugar and sodium should be reduced. Sugar intake must be controlled due to declining glucose tolerance. Cutting down on sodium is advised for older hypertensives. Dr. Poblete says, however, that judicious sodium intake is important as low blood sodium levels or hyponatremia is also a frequent cause for emergency room visits and hospital admissions in the elderly.
In combination with a healthy diet, Dr. Poblete says daily physical activity is important. Thirty minutes a day can be broken down into 10-minute sessions. Walking can be increased over time as strength builds up. Balance between the food eaten and energy burned is the key.
With the proper action, those vibrant senior years can be achieved. It just takes the right combination of diet and exercise.