The golden years can be a beautiful time. Retirement is in full swing and the possibilities are endless. One of the difficulties many face at this phase in life, unfortunately, are increased health issues, which lead to, or have been caused by, malnutrition. Acting as a vicious cycle for some, poor nutrition has been somewhat of a hot topic in the senior community. 

Statistics Canada did a study in the late 2000’s reporting that “Almost a million (an estimated 979,000) Canadians aged 65 or older were at nutritional risk in 2008/2009. They made up a third (34%) of people in this age range.” With women being at a higher risk than men; and older seniors, over the age of 75, being at a higher risk than younger seniors. The article continued to mention that, “A diet of inadequate quality or quantity can contribute to over- or underweight, decreased bone mass, immune dysfunction, cognitive impairment, functional limitations, anemia, and a lowered ability to rebound from illness or surgery…This study reinforces the association between nutritional risk and compromised health.”

As we acknowledge National Nutrition Month, we’ll cover some common issues people are facing and provide pointers to for better health in our senior community.

As we age and our bodies change, not only do physical and psychological factors present new challenges that affect the way we eat, but our dietary requirements also shift. Seniors can often struggle with maintaining a balance of the recommended healthy weight, by battling obesity or struggling with anorexia. Why are such challenges arising with our elder community?

Firstly, circumstances change. Before looking at how food choices affect health, we must look at how circumstances can affect our mindset towards eating. “Poverty, loneliness, and social isolation are the predominant social factors that contribute to decreased food intake in the elderly. Depression, often associated with loss or deterioration of social networks, is a common psychological problem in the elderly and a significant cause of loss of appetite. “ Donini LM1Savina CCannella C. 2013.

The article continues to explain that our hunger drive and fullness signals, based on physical changes in our stomach, due to age, may also be a reason that seniors aren’t eating well.  “Physical factors such as poor dentition and ill-fitting dentures or age-associated changes in taste and smell may influence food choice and limit the type and quantity of food eaten in older people. Common medical conditions in the elderly such as gastrointestinal disease, malabsorption syndromes, acute and chronic infections, and hypermetabolism often cause anorexia, micronutrient deficiencies, and increased energy and protein requirements. Furthermore, the elderly are major users of prescription medications, a number of which can cause malabsorption of nutrients, gastrointestinal symptoms, and loss of appetite.” 

All of this which can lead to the aforementioned health issues. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Nutrition and exercise may feel like a daunting concern with low energy levels, a slower metabolism, health challenges and habits that require change. But we’re here to encourage the possibilities of a healthy lifestyle to boost one’s spirit and improve quality of living. After all our senior community deserves it. So let’s get into the good stuff. 

The common factor that many nutritionists focus on relating to our senior community is the need for lower calories and extra protein. This is why diets such as DASH and the Mediterannean come highly recommended. Seniors don’t need as many calories as they did in their younger years. But the calories consumed should count; foods containing high fiber, extra protein and filled with the appropriate vitamins. It’s common to hear these sorts of facts, but they make all the difference and affect how we feel and live. We’ve created an infographic to show you what the ideal nutrition looks like for seniors. 

Now that we have an idea of what a well-rounded senior’s diet looks like, the next step is putting these ideas into practice. For adults of all ages, meal preparation and clean eating may be time consuming and difficult. It’s much easier to access convenient foods such as fast food, takeout and pre-packaged or microwavable meals which often include lots of sodium, sugars and preservatives. Especially for older adults struggling with mobility, grocery shopping and meal preparation is quite the task. Luckily, there are options to establishing a healthy diet. For those looking to have customized meals prepared (including snacks and leftovers), of many home care services that we offer, meal preparation is a popular option. Qualified caregivers can assist seniors with cooking, baking and grocery shopping.

 Another option for seniors who don’t have the budget for this option, can also look at alternative programs that offer well-priced, healthy meals that are prepared and delivered. Click here to see a list of resources and contacts that we put together.

As we’ve covered, malnutrition, especially in the senior community is directly linked with health issues and even mortality, affecting a sizeable portion of the population. By caring for malnutrition we can help improve the quality of senior’s lives substantially and in effect we care for our community.