Nutritional Needs of Seniors


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​​​Eating well is more necessary for seniors because nutritional needs change as we age. Adequate nutrition is necessary for health, vitality and quality of life.  Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons many seniors are not eating as well as they should, which can lead to poor nutrition or malnutrition, easily being mistaken as a disease or illness.

Our Bodies Change As We Age

There are many reasons our bodies change as we get older - dental or gastrointestinal conditions can have a significant impact eating habits.​

Perceptual Changes

Perceptual changes later in life can also influence our nutrition, such as changes in hearing, taste, smell and vision.  One of the most common complaints is in regards to the diminished taste in food. As taste buds decrease, so does our taste for salty and sweet — often times making food taste more bitter or sour.  This might tempt us to avoid foods that our bodies need. 

The loss of smell can also have a huge impact on the types of food one chooses to eat as there is a loss of satisfaction that can lead to poor food choices.

Physiological Changes

We slow down as we age so we have less caloric needs, but we must still meet our minimum dietary requirements. Our bodies also begin to experience a decrease in kidney function, re-distribution of body composition and changes in our nervous system. We need to ensure we are protecting ourselves in those areas as well.

Other Aging-Related Changes

Other changes in body function may impact nutritional intake, such as dentition, or the makeup of a set of teeth (including how many, their arrangement and their condition). The loss of teeth and/or ill-fitting dentures can lead to avoidance of hard and sticky foods. Gastrointestinal changes such as chronic gastritis, delayed stomach emptying, constipation and gas may lead to avoiding healthy foods, such a fruits and vegetables — the food categories that should be more emphasized rather than eliminated.

Malnutrition may also be the result of some socio-economic risk factors, such as the following:

  •     Loss of a spouse or family member
  •     Lack of interest in cooking or eating alone
  •     Fear of personal safety (which affects their ability to go grocery shopping)
  •     Financial concerns
  •     Institutionalization or hospitalizations (that do not ensure adequate nutrition)

 

Clearly nutrition plays a vital role in the quality of life in older persons. This is why preventative medicine and focusing on good eating habits is crucial. It is recommended to follow a preventative health maintenance nutritional program, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

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