Following a healthy and balanced diet helps you get the necessary vitamins and minerals to keep your body functioning properly and maintain energy levels. It also helps lower the risk of developing a chronic disease or helps you keep your condition in check if you already have one. Aging can bring a lot of changes that can alter how a person eats that can eventually lead to nutrition problems. Getting older can diminish sensory systems and dull taste, smell, vision, and hearing. Less than sharp senses can reduce the appetite and make eating unappealing. If an older person has dental or swallowing problems, eating properly can be even more difficult. Fatigue and/or cognitive problems can even take away the desire for food. A decreased appetite and/or compromised ability to eat can put older people in danger of undernutrition.
Common symptoms of undernutrition
- Weight loss
- Poor nutritional intake
- Muscle mass loss
- Body composition changes
The social factor
Sometimes, the lack of loved ones or friends can lead to isolation and sap an older person’s need for food or going grocery shopping. Try inviting other seniors who may be on their own to a meal or having your meals at a local senior group or council on aging organization. If you live in a long-term care, it can be beneficial to try eating meals with the other residents. The social interaction can be helpful to your well-being and make mealtimes more enjoyable.
Maximize opportunities for getting your nutrients by planning small healthful meals. For example, spread peanut or other nut butters on toast and crackers, ripe fruits and vegetables or sprinkle finely chopped nuts or wheat germ on yogurt, fruit and cereal. If chewing is hard, try adding meal replacement shakes and smoothies to supplement soft meals and snacks. Although food is best, supplemental nutrition shakes and drinks can be helpful for people who struggle with loss of appetite and eating problems. These beverages provide a healthy balance of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fat. Available in a wide range of flavors, they can be used to replace snacks and meals or used in conjunction with meals, if a person needs to gain weight. Older people need more of certain nutrients such as calcium, Vitamin D, potassium and fiber. These nutrients are important for preventing bone loss, maintaining nerve function, promoting healthy digestion and managing cholesterol.
If you’re experiencing problems with your appetite or energy level, consult your doctor’s advice.