Nutrition and the Elderly: Nutritional Needs

In recent blogs, we have been exploring nutrition in aging individuals. So far, we’ve discussed several challenges to eating well and how to overcome those challenges. We have also explored several very unique situations that may present additional challenges, as well as how to cope with those situations. Even though challenges are present, eating well is worth it. Aging individuals who eat a nutritional diet are more able to resist illness and disease, and they tend to feel better.

Since older adults require fewer calories, it is important to make every bite count as much as possible. Here are 6 of the top nutritional needs to ensure that your aging loved one’s diet covers.

  • Dehydration is a serious threat to the health of anyone, but especially to older adults. Remember that some health conditions and/or medications can prevent a person from recognizing thirst. Older adults should consume at least 8 cups of fluid per day, which should include water, but can also include fruit juice, milk, soups, or decaffeinated coffee or tea. Avoid soda and drinks with added sugar, which contribute to caloric intake but not nutritional. As well, remember that some health conditions require monitoring natural sugar intake. Encourage fluid intake every two or three hours, and with meals and snacks. Buy small bottles of water to keep in the refrigerator, which can be less overwhelming and easier to handle.
  • Aging persons benefit from fiber greatly, as it keeps the digestive system regular and reduces the risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. Avoiding overly processed food will increase fiber intake.
  • Adequate calcium intake is vital for strong bones. Still, people tend to consume less calcium as they age. Dairy products, if tolerated, are a good source of calcium, as are leafy greens like spinach and kale. Smoothies with these healthy ingredients are often loved by older individuals, who may have difficulty chewing.
  • Vitamin D. This important nutrient helps the body absorb Calcium and protects against many health problems. Look for foods fortified with Vitamin D, or choose leafy greens, soft-boned fish and eggs, which are natural sources.
  • Vitamin B12. This vitamin helps with healthy nerve function and creation of red blood cells. The best source is lean meat.
  • Potassium is vital for cell function, bone health, and protects against high blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are the best source, so aim to eat these at every meal.

It can be difficult to ensure that your loved one is getting adequate nutrition, especially when disease or medications complicate needs and absorption. Supplements can often help, but could interfere with medications or health issues. Maintaining an open dialogue with healthcare professionals is vital, so be certain to discuss how to meet your loved ones needs with a physician and seek help with daily caregiving when needed.

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