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Nutrition in the Elderly: Unique Considerations

In recent blogs, we have discussed the special challenges to meeting the nutritional needs of aging individuals, as well as suggestions for overcoming those challenges. Unfortunately, in some situations, the elderly and those caring for the elderly will face even more challenges than previously discussed.

  • Side effects of medication. Many aging persons must take a number of medications in order to survive or to increase functionality and comfort. The side effects can include loss of appetite, sedation, changes in taste, and nausea, constipation, or other gastrointestinal issues. It is vital to discuss any side effects with a medical professional, especially when they interfere with meeting nutritional needs.
  • Pain. Many people with pain, whether chronic or acute, can lose their appetite or interest in food. This can be especially bothersome for individuals with chronic pain, causing lasting nutritional deficits, and even contributing to the pain. Discuss pain management needs thoroughly with the doctor involved. Look for ways to improve comfort and decrease pain in the short and long term, including physical therapy, massage, ice or heat, and medication. Watch for signs that the loss of interest in food could be related to depression, which sometimes goes hand-in-hand with chronic pain issues.
  • Tooth loss. With the decline of overall health comes tooth loss and pain in the mouth. Many individuals are embarrassed to be losing teeth, which can delay treatment. Those close to aging persons need to be aware of the possibility.
  • Poorly fitting dentures. When a denture wearer loses weight or experiences bone loss, the jaw will often deteriorate. This results in dentures that fit poorly, and ultimately can lead to an avoidance of eating. When a denture wearer complains of pain when chewing or of dentures coming out unexpectedly, it’s time to consider refitting their prosthetic teeth.
  • Decreases in senses of smell, sight, and taste. Our senses make eating a more enjoyable experience. Some elderly persons will have a reduction in senses, sometimes due to medication, but sometimes not. This is not the time to make food blander, though salt restrictions must be taken into consideration. Experiment with herbs and spices.

Being aware of these possibilities is the first step to ensuring adequate nutritional intake. As always, look at the whole picture rather than a day or two, and consult a doctor as needed