Malnutrition is common in older people. This may be the result of poor digestion, problems with the teeth and chewing, or simply insufficient energy to shop and cook. There is growing evidence that good nutrition can help older people to remain independent, alert and healthy, but dietary changes should be introduced gradually so that the digestion has time to adapt.
Adding life to years
Slowing down the ageing process is less a question of adding years to life than of adding life and wellbeing to the years of living. To achieve this:
Making life easier
Preparing food takes time and energy: prepare two or three meals at the same time and store the extra ones in the refrigerator or freezer. Share meals with friends and take turns to cook, but agree to keep the meals simple. Try to avoid 'empty calories', such as refined sugar, which will spoil the appetite without providing any minerals or vitamins. Instead of a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit mid-morning, have a fruit drink, or fresh vegetable juice. These can easily contain 170-220g (6-80z) of fruit or vegetables rich in minerals and vitamins.
Take moderate exercise, preferably out of doors, as often as possible. This will keep your bones strong and stimulate your appetite.
Special nutritional needs of older people
For older people, the daily nutrient recommendations are relatively meaningless as the bodily processes become less efficient. However, ensuring a good supply of vitamins and minerals can only be helpful and many nutritionists routinely recommend a regular, well-balanced mineral and vitamin supplement.
VITAMINS B 1, B2, B6, B 12 AND COPPER help to maintain energy levels.
FOLIC ACID AND VITAMIN B 12 prevent anaemia. IRON is also needed, but high doses should be avoided.
ZINC helps to fight infections, and promote healing. It may also inhibit cancer.
CALCIUM, MAGNESIUM, BORON, VITAMINS D AND K, ZINC, COPPER AND MANGANESE are all needed to maintain strong and healthy bones.
PHOSPHORUS is also needed but is unlikely to be deficient in the diet.
CHROMIUM keeps the amount of sugar in the blood at the correct level. It can be taken as brewer's yeast or commercially prepared glucose tolerance factor.
SODIUM AND POTASSIUM can become unbalanced in older people. This can usually be remedied by decreasing the amount of salt in the diet and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.
VITAMIN E, SELENIUM, MANGANESE AND COPPER help to rid the body of free radicals that can cause tissue damage.
VITAMIN C AND P help to reduce infection, protect against the formation of cataracts and, possibly, to inhibit cancer. They keep the blood vessels strong and help to control the level of fats in the blood.
VITAMIN F can reduce the risk of heart disease.
To avoid dietary imbalance, mineral and vitamin supplements should not be taken in large doses, except with professional guidance.