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Nutritional Requirements of the Elderly
The normal nutritional needs for maintaining a constant state of good health remain throughout life in an individual although the nutritional needs of growth disappear. Good nutrition results in speedy recovery from illness, surgery or broken bones and can generally improve overall quality of life along with increased life span. It is expected that the nutritional requirements of 51 year olds to be different from those of 60-, 70-, 80-, and 90- years olds. Unfortunately, there are insufficient data available to break down recommendations and requirements further into more precise age groupings. However for any elderly individual, the recommended dietary allowances may be inappropriate because they are not based on studies of nutrition in the elderly but are extrapolated from studies of younger adults intended to meet the needs of healthy people and do not take into consideration the effects that chronic diseases or use of medications may have on nutritional needs. Ageing is often associated with significant decrease in energy needs as a consequence of declining lean body mass (muscle and bone) and the increase in proportion of body fat, resulting in a reduction in resting energy expenditure (REE). Physical activity also declines with ageing due to coexisting diseases such as bone and joint disorders, postural instability and angina etc. Therefore, the decline in REE and the reduced physical activity together result in decreased energy requirements. However, it is generally observed that these changes occur at varying times among individuals, and the chronological age is not a good predictor of caloric requirements.
Dietary Strategies for healthy ageing
Elderly population can be divided into - the functional elderly, the frail elderly and those with chronic diseases. Each of these groups has specific nutritional requirement. Several factors influence the diet that these elderly people live on: age, gender, living conditions, mental and physical state, the medications they may need to take, and social support
The functional elderly are likely to have nutrient needs that do not vary markedly, except for a few nutrients, from those of the healthy younger population. Calcium, folate and zinc are often reported to be lower than what is recommended, and can be obtained from milk and its products. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables and fruits, and zinc is found in red meat, fish and wholegrain cereals.
Frail elderly people are likely to have different nutrient needs from the rest of the population and suffer an increased likelihood of suffering from under-nutrition. The nutritional implications of frailty include poor appetite, low food intake, involuntary weight loss and sarcopenia (the gradual loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging).
Elderly people with chronic diseases such as heart disease or high blood pressure may have special requirements to manage the disease. For example in coronary heart disease patients, it is suggested to reduce saturated fat – avoid red meat, reduce dietary fats such as ghee, butter, cream, coconut oil etc, and increase fibre - whole grain cereals and pulses, fruits and vegetables, and maintain healthy weight.
To control hypertension it is suggested to lose weight, reduce salt, increase daily
consumption of calcium containing foods and fruits and vegetables.
Diet can play a preventative role with cancer. Plenty of fruit and vegetables containing phyto-chemicals and avoiding an excess of fat may provide some protection against the development of cancer.
Mail to -: Dr. Parmeet Kaur