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Meeting the Dietary Requirements of Seniors – What Every Caregiver Needs to Know

Although a well-balanced diet is essential for everyone, the elderly population is especially susceptible to suffering with malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. According to a survey that was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 10 percent of the seniors living in residential communities are anemic (iron deficient). Senior care education related to diet and nutrition in conjunction with caregiver training may help reduce the number of iron deficient seniors living in residential facilities.


Malnutrition and Vitamin Deficiencies Within the Senior Community

One in three of the millions of elderly patients admitted to the hospital each year are malnourished. While symptoms directly related to malnutrition are rarely seen within the senior community (e.g., scurvy), milder malnutrition symptoms are common. More typical symptoms of malnutrition may include weight loss or weight gain, a general lack of interest in food and loss of appetite.

The Gerontological Society of America states that malnutrition can occur due to socioeconomic factors, including:

  • Financial concerns
  • Poverty
  • Functional limitations
  • Bereavement
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cognitive decline


Body Changes Affect a Senior’s Physiological and Perceptual Needs

Throughout the aging process, the body changes in numerous ways. These changes can affect an elderly individual’s perceptual and physiological needs: For example, gastrointestinal problems and/or dental issues can negatively influence an individual’s eating habits; eventually, this lack of nutrition affects the senior’s overall health.


Perceptual Changes

Changes in smell, taste and even hearing can influence an individual’s desire to eat.

A common complaint among seniors is the decrease in their ability to taste food. Throughout the aging process, the number of taste buds an individual has decreases. This affects his or her ability to taste sweet and salty foods. Frequently, this lack of taste buds causes food to taste sour or bitter.

Another issue includes difficulty hearing or the loss of hearing altogether. Seniors frequently become frustrated when they are unable to hold conversations with their eating partners.

When it comes to food, the inability to smell can cause a loss of satisfaction. This loss may impact the kinds of food an individual chooses to eat and lead to an unhealthy diet.


Physiological Changes Affect the Nutritional Needs of the Elderly Population

The physiological changes experienced later in life dictate the nutritional needs of a senior. Due to a reduction in energy expenditure, a senior’s caloric intake need decreases. Furthermore, reductions in kidney function, changes in the nervous system and re-distribution of body composition also play a role in the dietary needs of the elderly.


Additional Age-Related Changes That Impact a Senior’s Diet

There are other body function issues that can impact a senior’s nutritional intake.

These changes include:

  • The loss of teeth
  • Improperly fitting dentures
  • Gastritis
  • Delayed emptying of the stomach
  • Constipation
  • Flatulence

A senior who is suffering with gastrointestinal issues may begin avoiding fruits and vegetables; however, instead of cutting out these foods, seniors suffering with constipation should eat more fruits and vegetables. In addition, not consuming an adequate amount of fiber and fluids can lead to constipation; therefore, consuming whole-grain foods containing fiber is essential. Elder care online training can provide medical professionals dedicated to caring for the elderly the information they need to provide seniors who have medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, the specialized diets they need to maintain optimal health.


Recommended Daily Calories Are Based on An Individual’s Activity Level

The number of calories an individual consumes should correlate directly with his or her activity level.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recommended daily calorie intake for a man over the age of 50:

  • A sedentary man needs approximately 2,000 calories
  • A slightly active man needs between 2,200 and 2,400 calories
  • A man who lives an active lifestyle needs anywhere from 2,400 to 2,800 calories


The USDA’s Recommended daily calorie intake for a woman over the age of 50:

  • A sedentary woman needs around 1,600 calories
  • A slightly active woman needs approximately 1,800 calories
  • A woman who is active needs anywhere from 2,000 to 2,200 calories


The Possible Health Benefits Received by Seniors Who Eat a Balanced Diet

Eating a balanced mix of foods offers elderly men and women a variety of health benefits.

These benefits may include, reducing the risk of:

  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Bone loss
  • Anemia
  • Osteoporosis


Eating healthy during one’s senior years may also help:

  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Manage diabetes
  • Decrease elevated cholesterol levels


The USDA Recommends the DASH Diet

The USDA recommends that people aged 50 or older follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan.

The DASH Eating Plan:

Fruit – 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups

  • Fresh, dried, canned, frozen and 100 percent fruit juice

Grains – 5 to 10 ounces

  • Pasta, rice, muffins, ready-to-eat cereal and bread

Vegetables – 2 to 3 ½ cups

  • Frozen, low-sodium canned, dried, fresh and vegetable juice

Dairy – 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk

  • Cottage cheese and yogurt

Protein – 5 to 7 ounces

  • Peanut butter, nuts, beans, eggs, fish, tofu and seeds

Oils – 5 to 8 teaspoons

  • Olives and avocados

Seniors should keep the amount of solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) they consume small. SoFAS include sweets and sugary beverages. In addition, their consumption of red meat should be limited.

By eating well, seniors get the nutrients they need to keep their muscles, organs and bones healthy. In addition, according to the CDC, proper nourishment can keep the body strong, which helps ward off infections. An online caregiver training course offers medical professionals dedicated to caring for the elderly a convenient way to complete their senior ceu.

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