MEDICAL NOTES

The elderly are at particular risk of poor nutrition

Getting older can mean poor eating habits. The elderly have smaller appetites and sometimes lose interest in food. This can result in the amount of food eaten being insufficient to meet daily nutritional needs.

A number of physiological changes associated with ageing affect nutrition:

  • Thirst. Studies have shown that the elderly have a reduced sense of thirst. This means that dehydration can be a problem, especially when unwell.
  • Appetite. Disease, injury and drug treatments can all cause loss of taste and smell, producing a decrease in appetite. Reduced activity and the general slowing down of metabolic rate that accompanies ageing may also cause a loss of appetite.
  • Chewing difficulties may make soft foods attractive. Some, such as cakes, are high in fat and sugar but lack more important nutrients. Better alternatives are eggs, fish, beans, cheese dishes and stewed fruit. Sauces make food easier to chew and swallow.

The ‘social’ aspect of meal times, which makes eating more enjoyable, is absent for older people who live alone.

If a wide variety of food is eaten, there is less chance of missing out on important nutrients. Fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, eggs, dairy products, and meat or fish should be eaten every day. Frequent small drinks of water will help prevent dehydration.

Older people can improve their nutrition by eating frequent small meals or snacks.

Ideas for snacks are fruit, spicy fruit bread, peanut butter on a cracker, scones, cheese with apple or pear, baked beans, yoghurt and breakfast cereals.

A tasty meat loaf is easy to make and can be served for several meals. The addition of bran in the recipe is an easy way to add extra fibre to the meal.

 
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