In 2016, there were approximately 49.2 million individuals in the US who were classified as elderly, meaning they were 65 years or older. By the year 2050, it is estimated that there will be nearly 84 million people who are aged 65 and over in the country. By 2040, the number of people over 85 years old will almost double to 14.6 million and by 2050, the population could reach 18 million. In 2015, 20% or more of seniors aged 65 or older were part of an ethnic or racial minority group. The proportion of senior citizens in these categories will rise in the foreseeable future. At present, the U.S. state of Florida holds the largest percentage of both full-time and temporary residents aged 65 and over (19.4%), and 10.6% of senior citizens in Florida suffer from poverty. Issues associated with aging are an important concern for elderly people living in Florida, as well as their families and the places where they reside. Aging in the 21st Century is an eight-topic series that addresses issues such as:
- Health and medical care
- Family relationships
- Economic concerns
- Home modifications
- Nutrition and diet
This document concentrates on how aging influences nutrition and diet, and what options elderly individuals can select to sustain or improve their health and contentment as they get older.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EATING WELL
Nourishing one’s body is vital at all ages and stages of life, beginning even before birth. At certain points in one’s life, especially infancy, pregnancy, and late in life, it is essential that eating behaviors are healthy. A healthful eating pattern can help people age well by:
- supporting positive nutritional status;
- aiding in weight management;
- promoting a healthy immune system;
- decreasing risks of infection, illness, falls, and chronic diseases; and
- maintaining digestive health.
Several age-associated elements can have a negative impact on the diet decisions of seniors in America. Nutrition educators supply seniors with the facts they need to select healthy foods, and, when required, redirect them to programs that can offer further support. These initiatives can assist senior citizens who require additional assistance in their nutrition, reduce the likelihoods of developing chronic diseases and health problems, and hold on to an optimal quality of life.
As one grows older, the body often goes through modifications that may have an impact on their dietary status and eating behavior. This is significant as dietary patterns can have an effect on dietary intake and the overall wellbeing of an individual. Here are some of the chief physiological modifications that aging persons experience, along with their potential nutritional adverse effects or health concerns. This data can be utilized to elucidate how modifications in the bodies of elderly people alter their nutrient needs and general wellbeing.
A reduction in Lean Body Mass, which can consist of muscle, bone, connective tissue, organs, and water.
- Increase in obesity risk, if energy intake is not decreased in later years
- Decreased strength—extreme loss of skeletal muscle and muscle strength is called sarcopenia
- Increased risk of falls and bone fractures
- Increased risk of dehydration
Change: Increased Body Fat
- Increased risk of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, which may result in the development of diabetes
Change: Decreased Immune Function
- High incidence of infection
- Increased risk for hospitalization
Change: Decreased Sense of Taste and Smell
- Decreased food intake, which can affect nutritional status
- Increased risk of foodborne illness
- Poor quality of life
* If people notice a shift in their taste or smell when taking a new drug, they may want to consult their doctor to see if a different medication can be prescribed.
Change: Impaired Vision
Impacts ability to:
- shop for food;
- read food labels and recipes;
- prepare foods;
- clean the kitchen (and keep food safe); and
- visit congregate nutrition sites or participate in other community activities.
Change: Decreased Saliva Production
- Reduced taste perception
- Impact on chewing and swallowing
- Decreased oral digestion of food
- Increased risk of gum disease and tooth loss
- Limited food choices, which can reduce diet quality and nutritional status
Change: Decreased Intestinal Motility
- Decreased food intake
Getting enough fiber in your diet can help keep your digestive system running normally.
Change: Decreased Lactase in Small Intestine
- Decreased ability to digest lactose in milk and milk products.
Older individuals who have difficulty digesting lactose may, as a result, have reduced amounts of milk and other rich sources of calcium in their eating plan, which induces an elevated probability of weakening of the bones, breakages, and falls. People with lactose intolerance can opt for lactase-treated milk or milk substitutes that have been supplemented with calcium and vitamin D. Using a calcium/vitamin D supplement can guarantee that you are getting enough of these vital nutrients. People who have difficulty digesting lactose can usually consume small amounts of milk with their meals. Yogurt can be frequently digested when consumed in a restricted amount, and hard cheese is generally lactose-free.
Isolation from society and financial constraints can significantly alter diet habits and affect nutritional levels.
As individuals grow older, their likelihood of becoming socially disconnected grows. They may go through the loss of someone close, such as a spouse or other family members and friends. Older individuals who are no longer working may not stay in touch with their former co-workers and can end up spending more and more time alone if they don’t participate in community organizations.
Old people may not be able to join in activities that would otherwise help them stay connected with others due to physical limitations.
Older persons, particularly those in financial need, have a greater chance of facing food insecurity when they have few connections with other people. This may be due to difficulties in obtaining groceries, a lack of funds to buy food, and a lowered desire for food.
People in their senior years who indulge in meals without any company generally take in fewer calories, and their dietary selections may not be as diverse as those who eat with companions. This can put them in danger of having poor dietary status and the health difficulties that come with it.
Older adults who lack companionship may demonstrate signs of depression, such as a disinterest in their normal routines, or possibly even clinical depression. Furthermore, depression can lead to disorientation, amnesia, and other damaging conditions aside from influencing hunger. It is essential for people over the age of 65 who show signs of depression to receive a proper diagnosis and, if needed, receive treatment. Receiving appropriate care can help enhance dietary intake, nutrition levels and general life satisfaction.
A few ways in which older individuals can engage in community life are participating in Extension education programs, doing volunteer work, participating in religious events, and eating at congregate nutrition sites.
The rate of poverty among individuals aged 65 years and older was 9%, signifying 4.6 million individuals were affected in 2016. Individuals of female gender, elderly individuals living individually, elderly individuals living in Southern regions or large cities, rural communities, and smaller towns, and old individuals who are either Hispanic or African-American have a higher chance of being poor than other individuals. A restricted financial situation can cause insufficient nutrition intake due to the incapability of buying food with the funds that are available. In 2015, 6.1% of U.S. citizens aged 70 and over experienced depleted food security owing to an absence of resources. These people tend to consume less nourishing food or need to use governmental food aid schemes or abrupt food sources to get enough sustenance. A poor diet contributes to poor health and can have negative impacts on the body, including losses in bone density, infection and diseases that last a long time.
Persons who are advanced in age and have very little money should be inspired to participate in offerings like the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program (which includes communal nutrition centers and food delivery services like Meals on Wheels), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps), and other programs available in their neighborhoods.
OLDER ADULTHOOD (AGES FIFTY-ONE AND OLDER): THE GOLDEN YEARS
As people age, their bodies go through many modifications, including hormone reduction, Muscle diminishment, and a decrease in power. In the later years, the heart needs to expend more effort in order to maintain its functionality since each beat is not as powerful as it used to be. Kidneys do not excel at eliminating metabolic waste products like sodium, acid, and potassium, which can interfere with maintaining the proper water balance and increase the hazards of getting over or underhydrated. Furthermore, immunity is weakened, and the absorption of vitamins and minerals is less effective.
Elderly people should still be eating nourishing meals and keeping up an active lifestyle. Nonetheless, people over sixty years of age tend to experience deficiencies more often, largely due to decreased consumption or an inability to absorb properly. The diminished ability of frail, confined elderly people to move around also limits their access to nutritious and varied food.
As people age, their body mass decreases and their metabolism slows, meaning that they need fewer calories than younger people. The daily caloric needs of individuals fifty-one years old and up fluctuate according to gender and activity level, with females needing between 1,600 and 2,200 calories and males consuming anywhere between 2,000 to 2,800 calories. A decrease in physical activity, which is common among senior citizens, also affects the nutritional needs they have.
The recommended ranges of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) for individuals is consistent across middle age and older age. Seniors should seek to replace refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice, with whole grain varieties and brown rice. Fiber plays a significant role in thwarting constipation and diverticulitis, and may also lessen the chances of colon cancer. Eat lean proteins and include healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, in your diet plan.
Taking in more essential micronutrients can aid in preserving one’s well-being during this period of life. It is suggested that males and females ought to consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day in order to reduce the rate of bone loss. It is recommended for men and women to take 10-15 micrograms of vitamin D each day in order to safeguard their bones. Daily consumption of Vitamin B6 should increase to 1.7 mg for male seniors and 1.5 mg for female seniors in order to control the levels of homocysteine and guard against cardiovascular illnesses. As people grow older, the manufacture of stomach acid may be decreased, leading to the growth of bacteria in the small intestine. This can interfere with taking in Vitamin B12, leading to a lack of sufficient amounts. Older individuals require more B12 in comparison with younger adults and must consume 2.4 micrograms each day to ensure their brains continue to work properly. For women who are getting older, there is no need for greater iron intake post-menopause, and the daily suggested amount decreases to 8 milligrams. Individuals aged over fifty should consume foods wealthy in all of the essential micronutrients.
NUTRITIONAL CONCERNS FOR OLDER ADULTS
Eating habits can assist in promoting well-being for the elderly and deal with some of the dietary issues that many elderly individuals go through. Furthermore, there are specific worries concerning nutrition that are pertinent to grown-ups in their later life stages. There are medical issues, like illness and handicap, that can affect what one eats and their level of exercise. Illustrating the point, oral illnesses can cause issues with gnawing and gulping food, thus making it challenging to have an adequate eating regimen. For those who struggle to chew their food, dentures and specially prepared chopped or pureed meals can be beneficial. Older individuals may not feel as thirsty and their kidneys may have trouble concentrating the urine, which can make it easier for dehydration to occur.
Around the age of sixty, the amount and size of taste buds start to decline. Older adults have a higher taste tolerance, so a larger amount of the same flavor is required in order to taste it. A lot of older individuals suffer a reduction in their capacity to tell apart flavors such as salty, sour, sweet, and bitter. This can make eating less attractive and diminish your hunger. Eating too much food that is high in sugar and salt can result in not being able to recognize those tastes. The ability to smell decreases as well, which affects one’s opinion of food. The perception of taste and odor can have an impact on digestion as these senses trigger the production of digestive enzymes in the mouth, stomach, and pancreas.
A variety of digestive system difficulties can influence the ability to eat and break down food in elderly individuals. As people get older, there is less saliva produced, thus affecting their abilities to chew, swallow, and discern taste. As people age, they produce fewer digestive secretions, which can cause atrophic gastritis (an inflammatory response in the stomach’s lining). This impedes the uptake of some vitamins and minerals. A decrease in the amount of the digestive enzyme lactase leads to a decrease in the ability to consume dairy products. Digestive functioning that is not as fast may lead to more constipation, gas, and bloating. Such symptoms can also be connected to insufficient hydration, a sedentary lifestyle, or a diet composed of not enough fiber, fruits, and vegetables.
Dysphagia, a disorder that has an effect on the swallowing process, can cause seniors to have difficulty obtaining the necessary nutrition. Injuries to the areas of the brain that oversee swallowing could cause dysphagia, thus stroke is a widely known origin. Swallowing difficulties can be a consequence of progressive dementia since the brain is affected by the condition. To provide relief for senior citizens who have dysphagia, it can be beneficial to make changes to the texture of their food. For instance, it is possible to mash, grind, or mince firm foods to ensure they can be ingested without difficulties or risks. This lessens the likelihood of aspiration pneumonia, which happens when edible material goes into the breathing passages and can result in pneumonia. Generally speaking, speech therapists, physicians, and dietitians collaborate to decide on the ideal diet for people with dysphagia.
OBESITY IN OLD AGE
Obesity is an issue of concern for elderly people, just like it is for other age groups. Individuals sixty years of age or older are more likely to suffer from obesity than adults in younger or middle age groups. As has been noted throughout this chapter, being overweight can have serious repercussions. Carrying extra weight or being obese increases the possibility of deadly diseases occurring in elderly individuals. The most common cause of passing in the United States is cardiovascular disease, while Type 2 diabetes is responsible for around seventy thousand deaths in the country annually. Being overweight has been linked to various illnesses, such as arthritis.
For adults who are on the heavier side, changing their diet to shed some pounds should be done together with some form of exercise, which will help keep their muscles strong. Since losing weight involves not just burning fat, but also losing muscle, it can cause the decrease in muscle mass often seen with aging to become more pronounced. It is good to be mindful of the possible benefits to senior citizens’ health when losing weight, but it is essential to talk to a medical expert prior to initiating any weight-loss regimen.