Rising senior populations in Canada means that we increasingly require the expertise of professionals who understand the specific dietary needs of the elderly.
Seniors are more vulnerable to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. They have less energy to prepare meals, and weaker taste buds also make food less exciting to eat. On top of this, financial problems might mean that they skip out on important nutrient-rich foods. They are also more likely to suffer from illnesses, or take medications that affect the way their bodies absorb nutrients. As a result, seniors face more challenges in maintaining a healthy diet.
For nutritionists working with elderly clients, here are a few warning signs to watch out for that might be the sign of a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Tingling in the Hands and Feet
Tingling in hands and feet can be a sign of nerve damage caused by a vitamin B-12 deficiency. As the body ages, it has a harder time producing adequate levels of stomach acid, which helps break down food particles containing B-12. Elderly clients are also more likely to have trouble absorbing B-12 in the small intestine.
In order to help seniors with a B-12 deficiency, a professional with a nutritionist certificate might recommend their client up their intake of B-12 rich foods like eggs, dairy products shellfish and fish. For vegan seniors, nutritionists might recommend beans, beets, asparagus, and fortified cereals.
Cracks in the Corner of a Client’s Mouth
A client with low iron and vitamin B levels might develop cracks in the corner of their mouth. Although this symptom isn’t overly serious, it can be painful for patients.
Nutritionists learn which foods are rich in iron during their nutritionist training. They can recommend foods such as liver, red meat, shell fish, lentils, and spinach.
Seniors can also boost their vitamin B levels with almonds, milk, and avocados.
Painful muscle cramps in calves, legs, feet and toes can be a symptom of a vitamin or mineral deficiency – especially if the cramps happen often and aren’t related to other potential causes.
Possible culprits are potassium, calcium, or a magnesium deficiency. Fortunately, nutritionists can recommend adding more nutrient packed foods to their client’s diet. For more magnesium, nutritionists suggest adding leafy greens, whole grains, and nuts. Dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream help bolster calcium levels. And for potassium, nutritionists say that bananas, beans, and squash are good nutritional bets.
A Special Word on Calcium
Nutritionist courses in Ontario teach students about the importance of calcium and vitamin D in the maintenance of healthy bone density. These students will know that EatRight Ontario recommends that seniors over the age of 70 include a daily intake of 1200 mg of Calcium and 800 IU of Vitamin D in their diets.
That calcium and vitamin D is especially important for seniors who suffer from osteoporosis. While changing diet habits to include more bone-fortifying foods can’t cure osteoporosis, a good diet combined with helpful medications can help increase bone density.
What other signs of vitamin deficiencies do you know of?