Elderly Nutrition – One Size Does Not Fit All

Elderly nutrition can be a delicate matter. Stuff happens, and often suddenly, as we age. (And the word “age” can be relative). We can be catapulted into health and wellness issues beyond our comfort zone. What does nutrition have to do with any of that? And what are the guidelines now?

The old USDA Food Chart with nutrition food values, from 1992, was devised on the premise that one size fits all. Then they realized, not so. And revised the whole chart in 2005 to help individuals evaluate themselves and their diet according to more complex criteria. This becomes especially important for the elderly. So important, that I felt compelled to write an article on nutrition and how it impacts seniors. (And nowadays, seniors are defined at anyone 50 an over!). We have young-old (till age 75). And we have old-old (after age 75). So I guess that means we need to pay attention at a “young-old age.”

There’s a big difference in nutritional needs between a 300 pound, 80-year old male in a wheelchair; and a spry 92-year old, 110 pound female who actively gets around with a walker. There are a myriad of differences here, not only with gender, weight and age, but especially with health. One’s particular ailments can, of course, necessitate specific diet and nutrition needs. This we know. This can become so complex a doctor or nutritionist may need to become involved. But then…you have to get the person to eat it. Consistently.

One fact does remain – we all need these nutrients:  vitamins, minerals, proteins, good fats and carbs, and good stuff like antioxidants to ward off disease (like cancer), and those now-famous Omega 3 fatty acids to do the same, and to maintain healthy heart, structures, and brain. These are nutrition facts we know for sure. And it is easy to find the appropriate food groups.

But what if someone just doesn’t want to eat much anymore? What if they just want to nibble and snack? What if they’re alone and don’t feel like cooking and can’t get to the store? Or their food is going bad in the fridge and they don’t know it (maybe vision problems) and family does not check? What if they just don’t care about all that nutrition stuff. What if they question, why is nutrition important. What if at their age, they just want to eat what they want to eat. What if?

It is a common problem, according to the USDA, for the elderly to require “nutritional intervention” due to malnutrition, or being borderline. Especially for those who live alone or feel isolated, even though surrounded by other people. It is one of the major elderly nutrition problems. Malnutrition is very quiet and secret. It sound so….extreme.  Alarming. And it can have extensive health implications. Sometimes permanent. But what does it really mean?

According to one official definition, malnutrition is “a state of poor nutrition; can result from insufficient or excessive or unbalanced diet or from inability to absorb foods.” When you put it that way, it sounds pretty basic. Something we can relate to.

For these loved ones, getting on the right track with nutrition is even more vital. It can be a matter of life and death. Or life with suffering. It means paying attention to our elderly’s’ eating. To all the food groups, especially and including in their snacking. Because that is what a lot of elderly do a lot of. If you’d like some eye-opening articles on nutrition topics for seniors and baby boomersArticle Search, see  Elderly Nutrition.




Mary Schulte is the founder of ElderOneStop, LLC and www.elder-one-stop.com specializing in one-stop resources and information for seniors and baby boomers — including health, caregiving, nutrition, activities, retirement, housing, travel, and more. A free newsletter is available, as well as a web site subscription. And be sure to check out our Forums to see what others are sharing!

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