A Moment of Science

Nutritional Needs of the Elderly

Many age-related changes present challenges to elderly people eating healthfully.

a portrait of an elderly woman

Photo: Daniel Greene

Because proper nutrition is still essential though, it's important that the foods elderly people eat contain lots of nutrients per calorie.

Many age-related changes present challenges to elderly people eating healthfully.

For starters, a loss of lean body mass means older people require fewer calories to meet their energy requirements. Because proper nutrition is still essential though, it’s important that the foods elderly people eat contain lots of nutrients per calorie. The very act of eating is difficult for many seniors though. Dentures and other ailments, like trouble swallowing can make chewing difficult.

Swallowing issues are often caused by decreased saliva production. Difficulties like these cause many seniors to limit their diets to a small handful of foods, which fail to meet their complete daily nutrient requirements.

Furthermore, illnesses and medications can affect the taste of foods. Eating alone makes eating less pleasurable for many older people, who may no longer have a spouse or family around to share meals with. Gastrointestinal problems that lead to indigestion, reflux, and constipation are also common with age, and can contribute to malnutrition.

If these and other problems make certain foods difficult to eat, look for alternatives that will supply the necessary nutrients. For instance, if meat is difficult to chew, one might try getting protein from yogurt, cheese, and eggs. Also, seniors can talk to doctors about whether medications she’s taking may be affecting eating difficulties.

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