Seniors Nutritional Needs
Fueling our bodies with proper nutrition by putting thought into the foods that we eat on a consistent basis is crucial for the maintenance of health and vitality at all stages of life. As we grow older and our bodies go through the numerous changes that come along with the process of aging, nutritional needs change too. Seniors have a different set of nutritional needs in their older age than they did when they were younger, and many seniors’ diets are not appropriately adapted to fit their new stage of life in ways that afford them sufficient nutrients to effectively meet all of their bodies’ needs.
Change Comes with Age
The changes that take place within the body in older age mean that seniors need to make intentional choices about the foods they are putting into their bodies in order to make sure they are treating themselves well, and that their eating habits encourage health. Numerous facets of older age, including changes to the physical body, daily routines, abilities, and perceptions, mean not only that the body needs different things, but also that new obstacles are present that might get in the way of a lifestyle of healthy eating.
- Gastrointestinal: Some of the most important foods for seniors’ nutrition, like fruits and vegetables, may be avoided more and more often by seniors as they begin to face challenges like chromic gastritis, gas, constipation, and delayed stomach emptying because these foods may become uncomfortable to digest.
- Perceptions: Changes in senses of hearing, smell, and taste can affect the experience of eating food in a number of ways. Difficulty hearing companions talking during meals can be frustrating enough to discourage seniors from eating with company, and can minimize enthusiasm for eating full meals entirely. Senses of smell and taste impact the level of enjoyment of food in meaningful ways, and can lead to dislikes of many foods, as well as preferences for those foods that are less nutrient dense and healthy.
- Teeth: Condition or loss of teeth, as well as dentures, and other changes in dental health can lead to avoidance of certain foods.
- Environment/Situation: Various other elements connected to environment and lifestyle can come into play to change eating habits. Lack of ability to go out and buy or transport healthy food, as a result of lack of transportation or anxieties related to venturing outside the home, might lead seniors to depend on less healthy convenience foods or not to eat enough at all. Similarly, worries about finances may mean that seniors buy smaller amounts of food or choose cheaper, but also less healthy, options. Loneliness can also lead seniors to avoid meal times, as cooking or eating alone emphasizes feelings of solitude and isolation.
- Energy: With a reduced amount of physical activity comes a decrease in caloric needs, meaning that seniors often require fewer calories on a day-to-day basis.
All of these changes, in combination with others, have their own repercussions on seniors’ health and nutrition and should each be attended to in order to recognize gaps in nutritional intake and create a plan to make sure seniors get all that they need in their diets to stay healthy.
Malnutrition is often identifiable in seniors in the forms of vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, loss of appetite, illness, and behavioural symptoms. The absence of a balanced diet can lead to imbalances and deficiencies in fundamental vitamins and nutrients, such as folic acid, niacin, and vitamins A, B, C, D, E. In order to prevent the consequences of poor nutrition, it is important that seniors make healthy eating a steady part of their lifestyles, by consulting and paying attention to the dietary guidelines outlined by Canada’s Food Guide, and by working with medical professionals if more specific needs or concerns come to light that need to be addressed through dietary adjustments.
Making sure that seniors maintain a diet that provides them with proper nutrition, in the form of all the required calorie amounts, vitamins and minerals that their bodies require, will help to keep the seniors of Ottawa in better health, and will help to contribute positively to their overall state of health and wellbeing.