Receiving adequate nutrition is important at any age, but is even more crucial for seniors. Proper nutrition can help seniors to combat many different conditions and can prolong life expectancy. In order to ensure that seniors receive adequate nutrition, however, it is important to understand that seniors’ nutritional needs are unique and there are special challenges that may need to be taken into consideration in order to meet those needs.
Decreased Caloric Needs
Decreased energy output and slowing metabolisms result in lower caloric needs for seniors than for other age groups. This is important to consider when meal planning and reading nutritional labels, as most daily value calculations are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Since a decrease in appetite often accompanies the decrease in caloric needs, it is important to make sure that each meal is nutrient dense.
Increased Need for Vitamins and Minerals
As we age, the body’s ability to absorb and process vitamins and minerals decreases, so we must counteract by consuming more of certain nutrients. Physicians recommend that seniors specifically increase the intake of vitamin D, vitamin B12, and calcium. These nutritional needs should be obtained from food as much as possible, but vitamin supplements may be used to fill gaps when needed. Receiving adequate quantities of these nutrients may help seniors to prevent common age-related issues, such as bone weakening and loss.
Medications may decrease the body’s ability to absorb nutrients or may even cause adverse reactions when certain foods are eaten. One common example that causes many deaths and injuries every year is the interaction between grapefruit and certain blood pressure medications. Grapefruit inhibits a certain enzyme in the body that helps the body to process certain medications, so the concentration of the medication can rise significantly and drop blood pressure levels to dangerous lows. A physician should be consulted regarding medications and dietary restrictions.
Nutrition and Condition Management
Existing conditions are a major consideration when meal planning and preparing as well. Seniors with diabetes, hyperglycemia, or hypoglycemia need to carefully regulate the amount of sugar and carbohydrates that are consumed. Following general nutritional guidelines without monitoring blood sugar levels can be very dangerous. Eating right may also help with the management of many conditions, as energy levels are increased and emotions are stabilized when adequate nutrition is received.
Some of the major challenges to providing proper nutrition for seniors are a decreased appetite, poor dental health, and diminished interest in food. Decreased appetite may be related to conditions such as depression, so caregivers and family members should research reasons for the decrease in appetite rather than to assume that it is natural. If dental health is poor, seniors may have pain or difficulty when chewing. To combat these issues, caregivers or family members may prepare softer foods and smoothies that supply plenty of nutrition. A diminished interest in food often has to do more with the social aspect of eating with people as opposed to alone, so family and caregivers may help by preparing meals and eating with seniors.