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Improving Nutrition in the Elderly
Malnutrition and Older Adults
- Loss of appetite—Older adults lose their appetites for many reasons, such as having a medicalcondition, having a mental health problem, or taking certain medications.
- Decreased sense of taste and/or smell—Many of the conditions that affect older adults and the medications they take can reduce the sense of smell and taste, making it difficult and even unpleasant to eat.
- Difficulty chewing and/or swallowing—Having dental problems affects many older adults and can contribute to a vicious cycle of malnutrition. As older people become malnourished and lose weight, their dentures may not fit correctly, making it even more difficult to eat. Swallowing problems also affect many older adults, making eating difficult.
- Loss of physical strength or mobility—Elders who are frail or immobile are often unable to shop and cook. Even something as simple as opening a can of soup or a frozen dinner and putting it into the microwave can be difficult for someone who is physically debilitated.
- Chronic conditions and medications—Older adults often have at least one chronic condition and take several medications. These can interfere with appetite, digestion, and even absorption of certain nutrients.
- Mental and emotional factors—Mental illness, such as depression, dementia, and social isolation affect many elders and can dampen their desire and ability to eat.
- Financial insecurity—Financial problems can make it difficult for many older adults to get the nutrition they need.
Make Meals and Snacks Nutrient-dense
Add Extra Calories Without Extra Volume
- Add extra sauces, gravies, and grated cheese to entrees and side dishes.
- Stir powdered skim milk into milk, milkshakes, and cold and hot cereals.
- Add honey, molasses, or maple syrup to hot cereal.
- Sprinkle wheat germ into hot and cold cereals, and add it to baked goods, such as breads and muffins.
Use Herbs and Spices When Preparing Foods
Make Meals Colorful and Appealing
Serve Several Small Meals and Snacks (Instead of Three Big Ones)
Do Not Fill Up on Non-nutritious Items
- Strive to include foods from every food group and of all different colors.
- Invite friends over for a pot luck dinner.
- Go out for a buffet-style Sunday brunch.
Make Mealtime Enjoyable and Social
Use Nutrition Supplements When Necessary
Take Advantage of Services That Are Available
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics http://www.eatright.org
Administration on Aging http://www.aoa.gov
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition www.ccfn.ca
Dietitians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca
Hollis JH, Henry CJ. Dietary variety and its effect on food intake of elderly adults. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2007;20:345-351.
Keller HH. Meal programs improve nutritional risk: a longitudinal analysis of community-living seniors. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106:1042-1048.
Rawson NE. Age-related changes in perception of flavor and aroma. Generations. 2003;27:20-26.
Eating well over 50. Helpguide website. Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/life/senior%5Fnutrition.htm. Updated May 2013. Accessed September 24, 2013.
Special nutrient needs of older adults. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6839. Updated December 2012. Accessed September 24, 2013.
Strategies to improve nutrition in elderly people. Better Medicine NZ website. Available at: http://www.bpac.org.nz/BPJ/2011/May/elderly.aspx. Accessed September 24, 2013.
Wells JC, Dubrell AC. Nutrition and aging: assessment and treatment of compromised nutritional status in frail elderly patients. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(1):67-79.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 09/2013
- Update Date: 00/92/2013