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Understanding and improving nutrition for the elderly

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Nutritional needs change as we age for a number of reasons: some are related to the aging process itself; some to physical ability; and some to cognitive impairment.

Many elderly people recognise that their body has started to work less efficiently, and 71% of over 65s globally have stated a willingness to modify their diet to improve their overall health. However, without the right information or measures in place, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Here’s our advice for tailoring nutritional intake to the needs of the elderly:

What types of food become more important with age?

When it comes to choosing the right type of food for an elderly friend or relative, think about the two C’s; calories and convenience.

The meal should be rich in calories (in most cases) to help them maintain body mass. Plus, combining a number of nutritious foods (in a smoothie or similar) and making sure that food is soft, bite-size or can be eaten by hand is a convenient way to make sure they’re getting all the nutrients that they need.

Here are some recommended foods to include in their diet:

Chunk soups

Wholegrains

Beans

Lentils

Leafy green veg

Mushrooms

Pumpkin/squash

Garlic

Onions

Raisins

Berries

Apples

Bananas

Oatmeal

Nuts

Egg substitute

Fish

Olive oil

How is it best for the elderly to structure their diets?

It might help your loved one if they made some minor changes to their eating pattern. Eating little-and-often (5 – 6 meals per day) has many potential benefits for elderly people, including:

  • Maintaining consistent insulin levels
  • Helping to avoid chest congestion and breathing problems
  • Encouraging higher calorie intake

You could also think about making lunch the main meal of the day, as this could help with:

  • Tiredness at mealtimes
  • Digestive problems at night
  • Activity throughout the day

How to stay properly hydrated

Making sure that your loved one stays properly hydrated can help to keep their energy levels up, promote brain health and ease intestinal discomfort. Here are some of the reasons why regulating water intake gets more difficult with age:

  • Reduction in lean body mass results in the percentage of water in the body falling from around 60% for adults to 50% for the elderly
  • The kidneys lose 20% – 25% of renal mass, which decreases their ability to concentrate urine
  • The sensation of thirst declines significantly with age

Humans lose around 2-litres to 3-litres of fluid each day, and require around 1.5-litres (eight glasses) to replenish (with the rest metabolised from food). These steps could help you find a way to optimise hydration in an elderly person:

  • Remind them in person or over the phone to drink regularly
  • Set up a series of repeat alerts on a digital device
  • Note eight of their daily activities and attribute a glass of water to each 

Making sure elderly loved ones get all the nutrients they need can be a difficult and confusing task. At The Good Care Group, we’ve spent years working closely with elderly clients to make sure that they have access to the nutritional, physical and emotional support that they deserve. If you want to find out more about our live-in care services, contact our friendly team today.

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