In general, the number of people older than 65 years of age is increasing while the younger population is decreasing. Whether you are an older person yourself or you`re looking after an older relative, here are 10 nutrient concerns to learn more about which can help to enhance the health of our more senior friends and family.
1. Water intake
Many older people begin to lose the ability to notice thirst. Some may begin to find it difficult to fetch a glass of water due to mobility issues or may be reluctant to drink fluids if they have poor bladder control. Consequently older adults are at a higher risk of dehydration, especially during hot weather or periods of sweating from a fever or during exercise.
This can increase the risk of urinary tract infections, pressure ulcers and disorientation. In order to prevent dehydration, older adults should drink at least 6 glasses of fluid`s a day, which should be kept within easy reach.
Energy needs typically decline in older adults. Decreased activity and muscle mass result in a slower metabolic rate, so less food is required to sustain a healthy weight. Nutrient-dense foods are important choices at this stage, these are foods that are highly nutritious, but low or moderate in calories.
I would also recommend regular exercise at a moderate intensity with some light resistance training to help prevent muscle loss and improve strength.
3. Vitamin B12
A number of adults older than 50 will struggle to digest and absorb this vitamin due to the occurrence of atrophic gastritis. Atrophic gastritis is characterized by chronic inflammation of the stomach, resulting in inadequate hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor which play important roles in vitamin B12 digestion and absorption.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in poor cognition, pernicious anemia and neurological damage. Foods fortified with vitamin B12 and supplements are recommended as they have a higher bioavailability or likelihood of being absorbed.
Elderly folks may begin to experience stomach discomfort which limits milk intake. The ability to properly digest lactose may diminish as we get older. Most older people are not meeting the recommended calcium intake of 1200 milligrams per day, increasing their risk of osteoporosis, especially in women. Calcium-fortified juices, foods or supplements are easy ways to curb this problem, but make sure not to consume caffeinated beverages at the same time as it can disrupt calcium absorption.
5. Folate and zinc
Folate and zinc are commonly low in older adults. Medication which is commonly used in this age group impair absorption of these nutrients. Zinc deficiency can depress appetite and blunt the sense of taste which could reduce food intake below optimal levels.
A folate deficiency may result in macrocytic anemia, mental confusion, Irritability, fatigue and shortness of breath. Regular intake of leafy green vegetables, fortified grains, lean meat, fish and legumes is recommended.
6. Vitamin D
Many older people such as those in nursing homes may receive limited sun exposure. The skins ability to produce vitamin D and the kidney`s ability to convert it to its active form, begins to diminish in older age. Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium utilization in the bones and thus, a deficiency increases the risk of osteoporosis. Moderate sun exposure of the arms and legs for just 10 minutes a day or supplementation might be beneficial.
Iron deficiency can occur in the elderly increasing their vulnerability to infectious diseases. Reduced food intake, reduced stomach acid secretion and antacid use (antacids contain calcium which bind to iron in the gut and prevent its absorption) can interfere with iron absorption in the body.
Eating foods rich in iron such as red meat will help. Eating vitamin C-rich foods in the same meal will enhance the absorption of iron.
Sufficient protein is important in the elderly as it supports a healthy immune system and prevents muscle wasting. Besides having less strength, reduced muscle mass also reduces metabolism and decreases insulin sensitivity which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Quality protein from lean sources such as skinless chicken breast or fish should be consumed daily, and regular resistance exercise will also go a long way in maintaining muscle mass and strength.
9. Fiber & carbohydrates
Older people tend to experience constipation due to low food and beverage intakes, certain medications, lack of exercise as well as weakened peristalsis (bowel movements). Whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruit are excellent sources of fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Also ensure proper fluid intake and hydration to promote healthy bowel function.
As we get older our risk for atherosclerosis generally increases. Older people should keep fat intake moderate, and sources should mainly come from unsaturated sources such as olive oil, nuts, fish and avocados. Hard, saturated fats should be limited to small amounts.
Take the time and effort to nourish your body properly so that you can remain healthy and strong for many years to come.