Older Adult Nutrition

The number of adults older than 85 doubled between 1960 and 1990. Sixty five percent of girls and 35 percent of boys born today can expect to reach 85 years of age. Changes in older adults neuroendocrine systems affect their appetites. Decreases in their sense of taste and smell diminish their desire to eat. Older adults who live alone do not have much interest in fixing meals. And some diseases and medications depress hunger.

As you age, there is decreased function of their digestive tracts which causes reduced nutrient intake. Even if the foods are present in their diets, there may be a deficiency of nutrients due to malabsorption.

Chewing may be a problem due to poor fitting dentures and poor dental health causing an avoidance of animal proteins. This may be less of a problem as "baby boomers" age, due to better dental care from childhood.

Older adults may have a decreased sensation of thirst. Dehydration leads to confusion. Signs are sunken eyes and dry lips. Remind yourself to drink water at regular intervals rather than waiting until they feel thirsty.

Caloric needs decrease about 10 percent per decade. Many people fail to make adjustments for this lessened need for energy causing weight gain as they age. However, other factors (decreased taste and smell, illness,medications) as described above cause weight loss.

Older adults may lack the intrinsic factor in the gut that is needed for the absorption and use of vitamin B-12. A lack of B-12 can lead to confusion that mimics senility. Disorientation should warrant a B-12 test, rather than assuming your parents are "losing it." Adequate folate intake helps to keep homocysteine levels down.

Highlevels of homocysteine lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of calcium may be too low. Post-menopausal females should get 1200 milligrams (mgs.) of calcium if they are on hormone replacement therapy, and 1500 mgs. if not. Many older adults do not take in enough vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D increases their chances for osteoporosis. Vitamin D is essential in the formation and maintenance of bone. Milk is a food source for vitamin D. The sun is another. Because few older adults drink milk, and they are indoors more often, they may not be getting ample vitamin D.

To off-set these deficiencies, it is recommended that all adults over age 50 take a multi-vitamin/mineral tablet formulated for mature adults. This meets all of their needs except calcium and vitamin E. Vitamin E supplementation of 200-400 international units (IU's) and calcium supplementation in addition to food sources is recommended.

The Joint National Commission recommends that older adults decrease alcohol, increase activity, increase foods high in potassium, decrease foods high in sodium, and decrease their intake of saturated fat.

Dietary cholesterol does not seem to have much effect on blood cholesterol, so emphasis is on reducing saturated fat, not cholesterol. Trans fatty acids have the same adverse effects as saturated fats. The word, "hydrogenated" (as found in margarine) should be treated like the word saturated.

Studies indicate that older adults with diets high in fruits and vegetables had a lower incidence of cancer.