Nutritionists are experts in how our bodies interact with food to extract nutrients and energy. By understanding the basics of nutrition, fitness, and healthy diets, these professionals can help others adhere to nutritional requirements and stay healthy. An important idea to note is that these requirements change throughout our lifespan. Older adults have nutritional requirements that differ from younger people because their bodies are different.
Understanding nutrition in older adults is important for many reasons. For one, older adults are more prone to malnutrition, which increases the health risks associated with aging. Shortfalls in micronutrients like vitamin D and iron are somewhat common, as is undernutrition resulting in weight loss. As longevity becomes more common, and the population of older adults continues to increase, nutritionists should have a firm grasp on the nutritional needs of older adults. Read on to find out three things about nutrition in aging.
A Physiological Picture of Nutrition in Aging
The process of aging means significant changes to a person’s engagement with nutrition. As we age, our body composition changes: our fat mass increases, while conversely our muscle mass decreases. This results in a reduction in our basal metabolic rate, thus reducing our energy requirements. Because of this, older adults tend to eat less. This can result in shortfalls in micronutrient intake.
One way that older adults can lessen the process of muscle loss is by ensuring they eat enough lean protein. This can be derived from foods such as beans, peas, lentils, and white fish.
Several other physiological factors impact how older adults eat and digest food, including:
- Hormonal changes
- Gastrointestinal changes
- Reduced sense of taste and smell
- Reduction in ability to recognize hunger and thirst
These bodily changes can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to reach proper nutritional requirements. Gastrointestinal changes like lower stomach acid can affect the absorption of essential nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Because of reduced efficacy in absorption, the nutritional requirements of older adults may increase. Additionally, certain drug-nutrient interactions can be nutrient wasting, even further increasing a person’s nutritional requirements.
Social and Psychological Factors Impacting Nutrition in Older Adults
As people age, oral discomforts through jaw pain, gum or tooth aches, or dry mouth become increasingly common. These factors can present serious problems in older adults, making consuming food uncomfortable and possibly rendering them disinterested in eating. The medications older adults take can also contribute to disinterest in food through loss of appetite, nausea, or dry mouth.
There are several social factors that can impact nutrition in aging. These include:
- Grief and bereavement influencing poor nutrition
- Social isolation having a negative impact on nutrition
- Illness and disability affecting the ability to shop for and prepare food
Nutritionists should be aware of the various social factors influencing older adults’ nutrition practices. By understanding these factors, risks can be mitigated, and suitable nutrition plans can be generated.
How Complications in Nutrition Impact Older Adults
There are several risks associated with poor nutrition that can impact older adults. Constipation, for example, is one of the most common health problems faced by this population. As we age, we tend to move less, and be more likely to consume medications with constipation as a side effect. Eating sufficient daily fibre should mitigate this unpleasant complication.
Professionals undergoing sport and nutrition training should be mindful of other potential results of poor nutrition. Undernutrition, in particular, can cause
- Increased vulnerability to infection
- Loss of energy and mobility
- Increased confusion
- Poorer healing of wounds
All these symptoms can be avoided or lessened through a proper nutritional regimen. Food enrichment, the process of adding energy-rich foods to dishes, is one alternative to supplements that may suit older adults. This ensures they consume the nutrients they need to maintain their health.
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