Nutrition is important for growing children and adolescents; however it is equally important in later years. Malnutrition in the elderly is unfortunately common in the elderly, and this has been attributed to problems of appetite, cost, and difficulties chewing among other gaining related issues. A lifetime of poor diet cannot be counteracted with good practices late in life, however a good diet predicts more years of life with less disease or acute health problems.
Screening tools can assist with determining whether the diets of the elderly are sufficient. This can include measuring body mass index (BMI), mid arm and calf circumference, and serum levels of total protein, albumin and prealbumin (Abd-El-Gawad et al., 2014). In particular this relates whether the elderly person is eating enough food, which contributes to malnutrition. Malnutrition can increase the odds of poor health and nutrition related complications (Abd-El-Gawad et al., 2014).
Lifestyle is also a factor in the nutrition of the elderly. Remaining active for as long as possible can assist with maintaining well-being, however it may also require an increased amount of food for energy, particularly protein (Boirie,et al., 2014). Because protein energy homeostasis is important to healthy aging, recommendations include 30 calories per kilogram of protein per day to ensure the retention of muscle mass and healthy insulin levels (Boirie, et al., 2014). Without sufficient protein, protein wasting can contribute to poor health and decreased muscle mass which reduces the capacity to be active and the functioning of cells (Boirie, et al., 2014).
The WHO guidelines for nutrition for persons over sixty years of age indicate that elderly persons can have many difficulties with healthy eating due to the vulnerabilities of aging, but it is particularly important that persons in this age group are aware of the various impacts of diet on the needs of aging (WHO, 2017). This includes the healthy foods to eat, and unhealthy foods not to eat. Elderly persons have specific needs for micronutrients, as this can support immune function and cognition (WHO, 2017). Lowering salt and saturated fat intake can help to prevent cancer, hypertension, glucose levels, and degenerative diseases such as coronary problems (WHO, 2017). Unfortunately increasing micronutrients in the diet of the elderly can be difficult due to lowered food consumption as well as the high cost of food which is high in micronutrients (WHO, 2017). There is evidence that supports these guidelines. Jankovic and colleagues (2014) investigated the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for healthy eating for seniors by measuring the Healthy Diet Indicator (HDI) against all-cause mortality in both Europe and the US. They found evidence that greater compliance with these guidelines resulted in more years of life.
By ensuring sufficient calories, micronutrients, and protein and lowering saturated fats and salt, the elderly can prolong well-being and reduce complications related to poor nutrition at the end of life. The barriers to good nutrition in this age group are complications related to aging, the cost of food and others; however the net effect is a longer and healthier life.
- Abd-El-Gawad, W. M., Abou-Hashem, R. M., El Maraghy, M. O., & Amin, G. E. (2014). The validity of Geriatric Nutrition Risk Index: simple tool for prediction of nutritional-related complication of hospitalized elderly patients. Comparison with Mini Nutritional Assessment. Clinical Nutrition, 33(6), 1108-1116.
- Boirie, Y., Morio, B., Caumon, E., & Cano, N. J. (2014). Nutrition and protein energy homeostasis in elderly. Mechanisms of ageing and development, 136, 76-84.
- Jankovic, N., Geelen, A., Streppel, M. T., de Groot, L. C., Orfanos, P., van den Hooven, E. H., … & Bueno-de-Mesquita, H. B. (2014). Adherence to a healthy diet according to the World Health Organization guidelines and all-cause mortality in elderly adults from Europe and the United States. American journal of epidemiology, 180(10), 978-988.
- World Health Organization (WHO). (2017). Nutrition in older persons. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ageing/en/index1.html