If you are helping to care for a senior family member. You might have noticed that the dietary and nutritional needs of adults are very different from your own. These different needs might be a surprise to you as you try to help care for this older person in your life. If you have been wondering why older people have different nutritional requirements. There are various changes that take place in the body.
They cause your nutritional requirements to change as you age. For some, the changes are due to an upcoming or recent surgery, for others, the changes that take place are related to organ health or a lack thereof. Other dietary changes are simply part of the normal aging process. If you want to learn more about the dietary needs of seniors, read on!
Nutritional Needs of Adults
The nutritional needs of infants and children are substantially different from adults. Although the typical infant has large energy requirements for growth and maintenance, they do not develop the ability to digest or assimilate any particular food and tend to derive more nutrients from fats, especially fats found in dairy products, poultry, eggs, fish, and nuts.
The typical child has enough energy to meet all or virtually all of their daily nutrient needs from a diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, soy products, and nuts.
Research on the nutritional needs of children and infants in the United States is far more complex than for adults. The only study published in 1990, cited in the text above, shows that dietary composition in children of the United States is among the most varied in the world.
However, it also suggests that dietary patterns for the U.S. population are essentially a function of income level.
Why Seniors Have Different Nutritional Needs
Change to Taste and Smell
Some of the nutritional needs of seniors have to do with changes in the body that affect smell and taste. While this does not necessarily change their nutritional requirements directly, it can change the way that they experience food. Being able to enjoy food as a senior can be difficult due to reduced taste buds and a lessened sense of smell.
It is important to remember that salt and other seasonings can lead to an imbalance in the body if they are over-utilized to make food appetizing. It can be tempting to seniors to use lots of salt to flavor their food, but this can lead to other health issues related to their sodium intake.
Energy and Function Changes
This is probably the most important factor that causes a change in the nutritional requirements of seniors. As your body ages, you are going to need to expend more energy and caloric fuel to do even simple activities. Reduced metabolic capacity leads to an over-expenditure of resources for even small tasks in some cases.
Other changes like reduced liver and kidney function can also play a role in this loss of energy. Your senior family member may need to eat more energy-dense foods to be able to make up for their inability to store resources the way that they did when they were young. A doctor or a dietician can advise you about the proper balance of foods to create energetic meals that will not tax or challenge the internal organs of seniors.
Seniors often experience issues related to their teeth, and it is not uncommon to see seniors who are missing more than a few of their teeth. Being less able to chew tougher foods like meats or challenging foods like salads and raw vegetables can lead to a reduction in nutrient uptake in seniors.
This change of diet can often be assisted through the addition of cooked vegetables and alternate protein sources that are not as hard to chew.
Seniors often experience some level of malnutrition as they age. This can be related to health conditions, lack of care for their diet, or a reduced ability to afford quality food due to living on social security.
Malnutrition in old adults is also sometimes linked to the reduction of the body’s ability to uptake nutrients and many seniors struggle to get the proper nutrition even when they are being helped with their daily meals. Many seniors need to take supplements to make sure that they are getting enough vitamins and enough calcium and niacin. Malnutrition in the elderly can lead to more serious problems down the road, and can even land a senior in a long-term care facility, so don’t ignore it when you see signs of your loved one becoming malnourished.
Seniors are prone to issues like constipation, gastritis, and delayed stomach emptying. All of these gastric issues can lead to a reduction in appetite and problems with eating challenging foods. Many seniors need to avoid raw vegetables and fruit, along with some proteins.
This is one of the most important factors that caregivers need to address when assisting a senior. Gastric issues can outpace a senior’s ability to uptake nutrients, and a doctor’s care may be required to help combat gastrointestinal issues before they turn into malnutrition and other diseases.
Caring for a Senior’s Nutrition is Important
If you are caring for a senior and are worried about their overall nutrition, always remember that they should seek the guidance of a medical professional to help them plan the correct diet for their unique needs. Following the expert advice of a doctor will make it possible to care for the senior person in your life properly and make sure that they are getting enough of the right foods to stay healthy and able.
While changes in nutrition are part of the aging process, they do not have to be debilitating or stressful changes. There are many solutions to the nutritional needs of older adults, that you and your family can offer to the seniors that you are caring for.
Changes of life do not have to mean a lack of enjoyment or health with the right management of nutritional concerns.