Improving Nutrition in the Elderly

IMAGE During the "golden years," good nutrition is just as important as ever. But, many older adults become malnourished for a variety of reasons. If you or someone you care for is having trouble getting proper nutrition, here are some practical tips.

Malnutrition and Older Adults

While many people seem to focus their diets solely around trying to lose weight and prevent disease, the nutrition problems facing the elderly can be quite different. For many elders, it is not a matter of eating too much, but rather a matter of not getting enough. And this all comes at a time of life when getting adequate nutrition—including protein, fiber, hydration, vitamins, and minerals—is as important as ever. Adding to the problem is that many older people deal with a variety of chronic medical conditions. These conditions can contribute to poor nutrition and can also be worsened by poor nutrition.

Contributing Factors

Several factors can cause malnutrition in older adults, including the following:
  • Loss of appetite—Older adults lose their appetites for many reasons, such as having a medical condition, having a mental health problem, or taking certain medications.
  • Decreased sense of taste and/or smell —Many of the conditions that affect older adults and the medications they take can reduce the sense of smell and taste, making it difficult and even unpleasant to eat.
  • Difficulty chewing and/or swallowing—Having dental problems affects many older adults and can contribute to a vicious cycle of malnutrition. As older people become malnourished and lose weight, their dentures may not fit correctly, making it even more difficult to eat. Swallowing problems also affect many older adults, making eating difficult.
  • Loss of physical strength or mobility—Elders who are frail or immobile are often unable to shop and cook. Even something as simple as opening a can of soup or a frozen dinner and putting it into the microwave can be difficult for someone who is physically limited.
  • Chronic conditions and medications—Older adults often have at least 1 chronic condition and take several medications. These can interfere with digestion, and even absorption of certain nutrients.
  • Mental and emotional factors—Mental illness, such as depression, dementia, and social isolation affect many elders and can dampen their desire and ability to eat.
  • Financial insecurity—Financial problems can make it difficult for many older adults to get the nutrition they need.

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