Importance of Well-Balanced And Varied Diet For Seniors

September 21, 2021

In the fast-paced world we live in today, it is quite challenging to spend time with our parents and take care of them exactly the way we want to. Immediate family obligations, work opportunities or other constraints, people are compelled to be away from their homes and their parents.  Many times, they are not able to give their elderly parents adequate emotional support.  

Apart from providing emotional support, it is essential to pay attention to their physical well-being as well. A balanced diet with a variety of nutrients is a must to ensure good health for senior citizens. However, their dietary requirements are quite different from those of middle-aged adults. Here is a guide to everything you need to know about the nutrient requirements and how to monitor the diet of the aged members in your family.  

Age-related factors that affect the digestive system of seniors

The body experiences numerous changes as an individual ages.Some of the most common age-related factors that affect the eating habits of the elderly are: 

1.   Metabolism: Metabolism slows down naturally with age. Slowing of metabolism means that the body is unable to burn as many calories as it could earlier. This implies that senior citizens should eat less to maintain a healthy weight. The amount of food intake also depends on the activity level of the individual. If the person is highly active, the food intake should be adjusted to accommodate their activity level. 

2.   Changes in the digestive system: The digestive system also experiences changes. The production of digestive fluids reduces. Therefore, with age, the absorption of some nutrients becomes harder for the elderly in comparison to that of a young adult. 

3.   Changes in appetite: Change in appetite is another important factor that comes with old age. Most seniors consume one or more medicines for different health conditions. Such medications tend to affect eating habits often leading to loss of appetite or poor digestion. 

4.   Mental health issues: Emotional state also has a bearing on the food intake of the elderly. Senior citizens who feel lonely or depressed either start eating less or more than usual.

5.   Oral health issues: A majority of older adults deal with some kind of oral health problem that in turn impacts their ability to eat properly. The use of ill-fitting dentures might lead to improper eating habits, resulting in nutrition. Oral infections also affect food habits. 

6.   Immune system: The immune system of seniors can become weak. They are more prone to acquiring diseases and illnesses. This also increases the risk of acquiring food-related health issues or food poisoning.It is for this reason, family caregivers must take extra precautions in the cases of their aged loved ones.

The need to maintain a healthy diet becomes more pressing as seniors age. As the activity levels of most seniors become low, the nutritional needs, appetite, and eating habits also change. 

Nutrient requirements for elderly 

The age-related factors clearly indicate that the nutrient requirements of the elderly are different from those of young and middle-aged adults. Like other age groups, seniors also need a balanced and varied diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Every family caregiver must provide these essential nutrients for the elderly members:

1.   Fiber: Seniors have a relatively less active lifestyle as compared to other age groups. Therefore, the inclusion of adequate levels of fiber is essential to prevent constipation or other gastrointestinal problems. Fiber helps in easy digestion and is found in fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

2.   Protein: Protein is the building block of bones. To ensure healthy bones and joints, an adequate amount of protein intake is a must in the diet of seniors. Proteins help in the growth and repair of bones and cell replication. The best food options for acquiring the necessary level of protein are meats, fish, beans, green vegetables, and dairy products.

3.   Calcium: Calcium is another necessary nutrient needed for making the bones healthy and strong. Lack of calcium may result in osteoporosis among the elderly that makes the bones weak and brittle. Weak bones increase the risk of bone fractures. Hence, calcium must be added to the meals of the seniors. Good sources are cabbage, spinach, tofu, kale, and dairy products. 

4.   B Vitamin: Many elderly people suffer from B vitamin deficiency which may result in conditions like dementia and memory loss. Dementia affects the cognitive ability of the brain. Dairy products, lean meats, eggs, fish, etc. are rich in B vitamins. 

5.   Vitamin A: Vitamin A is associated with the health of the eyes. With old age, individuals face numerous vision impairments. Some common issues are farsightedness and night blindness.That is why vitamin A, present in citrus fruits and vegetables, is a vital nutrient that helps in maintaining eye health. 

6.   Potassium: The intake of potassium is important for the efficient functioning of cells across the body. Older adults must have potassium in their diets for strong muscles and a healthy blood pressure level. Food items like bananas, beef, and beans are highly rich in potassium. 

7.   Monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats:  Like all other nutrients, a healthy amount of fat intake is also vital. Fats are needed to give the body the necessary energy to digest other nutrients, absorb energy, and for the well-being of the heart and the brain. However, one must choose the right kind of fats. Unlike saturated and trans fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should be consumed. They reduce the risk of cardiac diseases and the probability of getting a stroke. They also help in lowering blood pressure. Sources of these healthy fats are avocados, olives, peanuts, nuts, tofu, soy milk, etc. 

What to avoid:

Saturated and Trans Fats: If the senior members of a family have high cholesterol levels, they need to stay away from saturated and trans fats. Diets containing high-fat cause a number of health issues like hypertension. High cholesterol levels also make seniors prone to colon, prostate, and pancreas cancers. In addition, it also harms the blood vessels and may cause potential damage to the heart. Apart from cardiac issues, high-fat diets lead to obesity and diabetes. Since cholesterol levels tend to increase with age, older adults and family caregivers need to pay more attention to it. Fast foods high in fat, sugar, and salt must be limited.

How to ensure your aged-loved ones are getting the right nutrients?

At present, there are several options that individuals can take in case they are unable to take care of their aged family members themselves.Installing a monitoring system for the elderly in the home is one of the best life alert alternatives available. In this regard, SentryTell’s elderly monitoring sensors installed on the doors of the refrigerators are very helpful.SentryTell's open/close sensors act as an effective 24/7 alternative to an elderly monitoring camera.  These sensors alert you about any unusual event that might occur. For instance, the sensor will notify you when the refrigerator door is opened at an unusual hour or if it was not opened throughout the day.  A room monitor for the elderly will help you remain informed about the daily eating schedule of your older family members. 

Taking care of the dietary needs of the elderly members of the family becomes easier through such life-alert alternatives. You can be away from your parent’s home yet be absolutely aware of things happening in their home. Regular updates will enable you to take better care of your senior and keep them from illnesses arising from over or under consumption of food.