BIG Rewards: The Promise of Small Changes in Nutrition
Be mindful of seemingly inconsequential eating habits: their impact is bigger than you can imagine – especially when it comes to the Senior population.
When we consider the health of older adults, we tend to think about the most common diseases like Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. However, as some of the latest research indicates, it is malnutrition that is a determining factor in turning a manageable condition into a more serious medical situation. And, as the Alliance to Advance Patient Nutrition states, “with a rapidly growing population of older adults and sharp increases in chronic disease, the value of proper nutrition has never been higher”.
The elderly often find themselves in a weakened condition due to undetected nutritional deficiencies that place them at risk for severe health problems. This is significant as especially taking into consideration that chronic ailments such as heart disease and diabetes, and the drugs used to treat them, can interfere with food intake and nutrient absorption. Malnourished patients are more likely to suffer falls, develop a pressure ulcer and bed sores.
Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester points to new evidence showing that older adults need more dietary protein than younger adults to make up for age related changes in the way the body metabolizes protein. And protein consumption, along with regular physical activity, he states, is vital for maintaining muscle mass and strength.
Age-related factors, it seems, can interfere with the intake of nutrients necessary to ward-off illness, keep the immune system strong, and maintain overall health and wellbeing, the biggest culprits being poor dietary choices, and lessened physical activity.
However, what is novel in Dr. Hensrud’s approach is the social factors he points to when he states that “A whole host of medical and social issues or underlying medical conditions can be responsible for poor nutritional status in older adults”, ranging from limited food choices because their teeth hurt or a loss of appetite as a side effect of recent changes in their medication intake.
Even more incisive however, are those minute habits that stealthily sneak into the daily routine of our elderly, wreaking havoc in their overall health.
Case in point: Seniors living alone who may eat the same thing over and over again – because it demands less effort, because they might not be able to leave the house to shop for fresh vegetables or simply because they find it pointless to prepare a meal since they are eating by themselves anyways.
The importance of a well balanced diet as we age, has been well established. Now, perhaps more importantly, we are starting to understand the impact that small but mindful changes in nutrition and eating habits can have in the overall health of our Seniors.