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Nutrition: How Assisted Living Addresses the Needs of Aging Adults

There are several nutrition issues to consider in order to maintain optimal health.  Preparing meals to meet optimum health requirement may become more challenging due to the many changes bodies go through as we age.

Weight gain

Over time, our metabolism slows down and caloric needs decrease.  However, we still require the same amount of nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water in order to stay healthy.  Vitamins and minerals of special consideration are calcium, vitamin D, vitamins B12, B6, and folate.  And while all weight gain should be addressed, weight gain in the abdominal area is of higher concern as it can lead to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes mellitus. 

Loss of sense of smell/taste

One cause of weight gain is the deterioration of taste buds.  This often causes older people to prefer sweet or salty foods.  Salty foods cause the body to hold onto water weight, which can lead to elevated blood pressure.  And sweet foods are often just empty calories.  However, a decreased sense of smell and taste can also lead to a loss of interest in foods that don’t have high salt and sugar content.  Aging adults may choose not to eat because they don’t get any satisfaction from their food, or choose unhealthy snack foods that do not contain adequate nutrients.

Poor dental health

Poor dental health includes tooth loss or pain from inflammation.  These issues can lead to an avoidance of food due to the pain caused by eating, which can lead to overall poor nutrition and weight loss.

Decreased Gastro-Intestinal (GI) functions

Along with metabolism, gastrointestinal function also slows down.  This can lead to a decreased production of saliva and stomach acid, which help breakdown food.   When food is not broken down thoroughly, it can become difficult to digest and absorb in order to get the nutrients our bodies need.

Constipation

Constipation is a gastrointestinal issue that plagues many adults.  It is often due to a diet low in fiber and not drinking enough water.  Decreased mobility and lack of exercise could also lead to a slowing of the GI tract.  Aging adults have an increased risk of constipation due to their reduced ability to conserve water, they are less attuned to their thirst, and they may avoid drinking fluids because of overactive bladder problems.

Bone health

Many people experience a decreased tolerance of milk or lactose as they age.  Milk and other dairy products contain vitamin D and calcium, which aid in the building of bones.  People of all ages who do not consume adequate amounts of this vitamin and mineral are at an increased risk of developing brittle bones or osteoporosis, which can lead to more falls and fractures.

Decreased mobility

Often, it is often difficult for older adults who do not drive to get to a grocery store.  This leads to a significantly decreased consumption of healthy foods and a tendency to eat more processed foods.  This lack of transportation can lead to overall poor nutrition.

Poor Appetite

Lastly, a poor appetite is often the cause of weight loss in older adults.  Weight loss is an issue of concern as it can signal an underlying health problem.  An elderly person with a weight loss of at least 5 percent should see a doctor.

How assisted living communities can help aging adults with their nutrition

Assisted living helps residents with many of their daily needs, including eating a healthy balanced diet.  At this stage in life, older adults need to:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods
  • Choose foods higher in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Avoid empty calories, which are foods with lots of calories but few nutrients, such as fried foods, chips, cookies, soda, alcohol, and other processed items
  • Pick foods low in cholesterol and fat, especially saturated and trans fats
  • Drink an adequate amount of water to stay hydrated and improve digestion
  • Increase physical activity in order to control weight gain

Assisted living communities follow these guidelines to provide healthy options that are palatable and accommodate taste and texture preferences to ensure that your loved one is getting the adequate nutrients they need to stay active and healthy.  It is also proven that people tend to eat more while engaging socially.  Assisted living dining offers not only the nutrition and good taste, but the social element of dining that is often lacking when living alone.

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