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Nutritional Needs for Older Adults

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Keeping the right balance of nutrients in our bodies can become a little more difficult as we grow older, making eating healthily a slightly trickier prospect for many.

As we age, our bodies change, and our nutritional needs differ from those of younger adults. For example, older people need more calcium and vitamin D to help maintain bone health.

A particular conundrum is that it’s often the fact that, as we reach an older age, we need less calories to maintain the same weight, but at the same time, we may also find it harder to absorb nutrients from our food. In other words, we need more nutrients but less calories.

This means that eating a healthy, balanced diet becomes more vital than ever before. We need to make sure that the food we are consuming offers a great range of nutrients but without empty calories.

But as your appetite may decrease or change, or food preferences alter, this can feel like a struggle. With this in mind, we explore nutritional needs for older adults.

What should an older person include in their diet?

To ensure you're getting the vitamins and minerals you need in your body as you age, it's important to eat a healthy diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods. You may also need to take supplements to ensure you're getting enough of certain nutrients.

In general, older adults should:

  • aim for a diet that is high in nutrient-rich foods and low in calories, saturated fat, and added sugars
  • eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy products
  • limit processed foods, sugary drinks, red meat, and refined carbs
  • stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or unsweetened beverages
  • talk to their doctor about taking a daily multivitamin or other supplements as needed

While this is a good way of eating at any age, it becomes more important as we grow older and need to ensure that we get the maximum number of nutrients out of every meal.

What types of food are good for older people?

A healthy diet for an older person includes:

  • plenty of fruits and vegetables of all different colours, including fresh, frozen, or canned options
  • whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and quinoa
  • lean protein sources such as beans, lentils, chicken, fish, tofu, and Greek yogurt
  • low-fat dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, and nuts
  • water or unsweetened beverages such as tea or coffee

While many of these foods may have featured heavily in a person’s diet throughout their life, often as we get a little older, we may change our preferences in taste or texture. This can be simply down to what people like, or due to issues with teeth or problems in swallowing.

Additionally aging can affect someone’s sense of smell or taste, so foods that were once a favourite may no longer appeal. If you or someone you care for is having trouble getting the appropriate amount of nutrients through main meals, it can be worth trying to establish a habit of eating healthy snacks to help top up both calories and provide essential nutritional value. While taking supplements can help, it’s always the best option to eat the largest variety of natural, healthy foods that you can.

B12 Deficiency in older adults

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy. It is found in animal-based foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. The body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells and DNA.

Older adults are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency for several reasons. First, the body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age. Second, older adults are more likely to take medications that can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12. And finally, older adults are more likely to have health conditions that can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, such as pernicious anaemia or gastrointestinal problems.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, headache, and memory problems. If left untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to serious health problems such as anaemia and nerve damage.

If you think you may be deficient in vitamin B12, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can order a blood test to check your vitamin B12 levels. If you are deficient, your doctor may recommend taking a supplement or getting injections of vitamin B12.

Older adults who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet are at especially high risk for vitamin B12 deficiency since animal-based foods are the only sources of this nutrient. If you don't eat animal products, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement or getting injections of vitamin B12.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is a mineral that is essential for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Together, these nutrients are important for bone health.

Like B12, one issue for older people is that the body can find it harder to absorb vitamin D. Additionally conditions such as osteoporosis can also interfere with how the body absorbs these nutrients.

Symptoms of calcium and vitamin D deficiency can include fatigue, muscle weakness, Bone pain, and fractures. If left untreated, calcium and vitamin D deficiency can lead to serious health problems such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.

How nutritional needs change as we grow older

As we age, our nutritional needs change. We need more of some nutrients and less of others. For example, older adults need more calcium and vitamin D for bone health. They also need more fibre to prevent constipation.

Older adults also have different calorie needs than younger adults. This is because older adults are often less active and have a lower metabolism. As a result, they may need fewer calories than those who are under 65.

Malnutrition can be more pronounced in older people and loss of appetite in the elderly can lead to health issues.

Supplements for the elderly

If you are really struggling to take in the nutrients you need, then it’s a good idea to speak to your GP about supplements that can help.

What type of supplement you should take will depend on your individual needs. If you’re worried about a loved one or concerned they make forget to eat or take their supplements, the SureSafe Guardian may help. The device uses our friends and family app which can be set up to provide reminders for your loved one to take their supplements, or other medications.

Iron Deficiency in older adults

Iron is a mineral that is essential for carrying oxygen in the blood.

Unfortunately, older adults are at risk for iron deficiency. This is because the body's ability to absorb iron decreases with age. Additionally, older adults are more likely to have health conditions that can cause iron deficiency, such as gastrointestinal problems or blood disorders.

Symptoms of iron deficiency can include fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, and headaches. If left untreated, iron deficiency can lead to serious health problems such as anaemia and heart failure.

If you think you may be deficient in iron, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can order a blood test to check your iron levels. If you are deficient, your doctor may recommend taking supplements or making changes to your diet. Good sources of iron include red meat, poultry, fish, and beans.

Call SureSafe's team of experts 0800 112 3201 to learn more about how you can help keep your elderly loved ones safe with a personal alarm.

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