By Lorna Birch, MD, FACP
There are many reasons why older adults don’t get the nutrition they need. As you age there is a decrease in appetite and you feel fuller faster. There is also a decrease in both taste and smell which can lead to a decreased interest in food. A variety of chronic medical conditions and medications can decrease or increase your appetite. Physical conditions such as arthritis or weakness from a stroke can make it difficult to prepare foods. Lack of proper dentation can make it difficult to chew. Living on a lower fixed income makes paying for high quality foods more challenging. People tend to eat better when they eat with others, and as you age, the loss of a spouse or friends leads to more isolation.
Malnutrition is associated with longer hospital stays, increased infections, anemia, weakness, loss of energy, poor memory and alterations in the integrity of the skin.
As you age your daily caloric need decreases. The number of calories needed decrease because the metabolism slows down. This can result in excessive weight gain.
Older adults can improve their nutrition by eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish, low fat dairy products and lean meats. I would recommend avoiding a restrictive diet unless specifically recommended by a physician. Restrictive diets can be bland and less desirable and lead to weight loss. If you can’t incorporate a great variety of foods in your diet, than an over the counter supplement with vitamins and minerals will help supply essential nutrients. These supplements should be used between meals and not replace a meal. If weight loss is an issue, eating small frequent meals instead of three meals a day promotes weight gain. Eating with others provides a sense of well-being and motivation to sit down and eat a balanced meal.