According to The Alliance For Aging Research, approximately 3.7 million American seniors are malnourished. You would think that seniors receiving care in hospitals and long-term residential facilities would have their basic nutritional needs met. However, these older adults are more likely to suffer from poor nutrition. Malnutrition is not just a problem for people in other countries who don’t have access to healthy food. It’s a surprising epidemic that affects elderly individuals in the U.S.
Fuel For Survival
The body needs the right nutrients to remain healthy. As people age, their dietary needs change. They may lose their sense of smell and taste. Their digestive systems slow down.
Health problems that plague the elderly can affect their ability and desire to eat. In some cases, chewing and swallowing is difficult. The body’s ability to absorb nutrients decreases. Diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression and Parkinson’s can increase the risk of malnutrition in this age group.
Seniors need to focus on nutrition. The National Council on Aging reports that about 92 percent of all seniors have at least one chronic disease. Although medical conditions can decrease the desire to eat, individuals need optimal nutrition to promote healing.
Also, seniors require fewer calories as they age. That means that they need to pack every bite with vitamins and minerals to provide the sustenance that their bodies require. The World Health Organization explains that micronutrient deficiencies are common in seniors. Older adults should strive to take in the following six nutrients to help ensure their health as they age.
Your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 declines with every birthday. Gastrointestinal disorders or surgeries can exacerbate this issue. Severe deficiency can cause pernicious anemia, spinal cord deterioration, weakness, numbness, mood changes, confusion or dementia.
Vitamin B12 is plentiful in many animal-based foods, such as fish, meat, chicken, eggs and milk. Seniors who don’t eat meat are at a greater risk of developing a deficiency. Supplementing with an oral vitamin or a regular injection may increase the chance of properly absorbing this nutrient.
Folate, or folic acid, is another B vitamin that’s vital for your health. Seniors who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables may not get enough folate. However, other factors may come into play.
Drinking too much alcohol can inhibit your intestines’ ability to absorb folic acid. Some drugs can also interfere with folate assimilation. If you don’t get enough of this vitamin, you may experience fatigue and diarrhea. You may also increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disorders and cancer, according to U.S. Pharmacist.
Chronic, severe vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy. Although this condition is no longer a prevalent problem in the U.S., seniors may still suffer from mild deficiency. According to a research article published in Sage Journals, 40 percent of seniors in a geriatric ward may not get enough of the vitamin.
We associate vitamin C with immune function. Many people think vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, can help ward off the common cold. However, research hasn’t proven that vitamin C can cure the sniffles.
What it can do is improve the connective tissue in the body. Collagen is necessary for skin growth and restoration. Without enough vitamin C, collagen production is diminished. This leaves people more susceptible to bed sores. Wounds may also take longer to heal.
Smoking and hemodialysis can interfere with vitamin C metabolism. Seniors should make sure that they’re eating enough vitamin-C-rich foods or take a supplement. However, overdoing the vitamin C can cause gastrointestinal issues and excess iron absorption.
Many seniors, especially those who live in an extended care facility, don’t go outside enough. Lack of sun exposure can cause vitamin D deficiency.
Although many people associate calcium with healthy bones, vitamin D shouldn’t be neglected. People who don’t get enough vitamin D may be more likely to have osteoporosis, muscle weakness, bone fractures and hip problems. Low vitamin D is also associated with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
Most foods don’t naturally contain vitamin D. The best way to get this vitamin is to expose the skin to sunlight. However, seniors may have a harder time synthesizing vitamin D from sunlight than they did when they were younger. People with darker skin don’t produce as much vitamin D in this manner as people with light skin. Seniors should talk to their doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Magnesium helps regulate glucose and blood pressure. It’s also involved in more than 300 of the body’s processes. Magnesium deficiency has been linked with neural disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, heart problems and hormonal imbalance.
Many foods lose magnesium as they’re processed. Getting enough fresh, whole foods can help seniors consume enough of this nutrient.
The importance of fiber consumption in the elderly is cliché for a reason. Intestinal motility slows down as you get older, making it more important to eat enough fiber. Even though fiber is not absorbed, it helps clean out the intestines and keep everything moving. Seniors should also drink enough water to support optimal intestinal function.
Packing In The Nutrition
Empty calories play a part in senior malnutrition. It can be easier to grab processed foods that contain few nutrients than to cook fresh foods from scratch. Seniors should work closely with a medical professional to ensure that they’re getting the right nutrition to help them live longer and avoid health problems.