As we grow older adequate nutrition is of utmost importance for our daily activities, vitality in the body, functional independence and to prevent the onset of diseases. Our calorie, vitamin, and mineral intake changes as per our age, nutritional requirement and disease condition. Food preferences such as a high fiber diet, less sugar and salt diet, restricting food containing saturated and trans fat, balancing the calorie intake and diversifying the food you consume becomes important in order to stay healthy and fit as you age. Nutrition is important for all the age groups, just that nutritional requirements differ for each group and person to person. Proper nutrition is very important especially as we age to maintain our health and for us to be fit and active to complete all our daily duties and responsibilities without depending on anyone else.
What is geriatric nutrition? “Geriatric nutrition applies to nutrition principles to delay effects of aging and disease, to aid in the management of the physical, psychological, and psycho-social changes commonly associated with growing old.” Geriatric nutrition is a stream of science which is a specialized field, it focuses on improving health and helps in making old age easier and more healthy and happy. Timely interventions and healthy habits can make our aging process more knowledgeable and healthier.
THE AGEING PROCESS
Aging in simple terms means growing older. It is a continuous and gradual process. Mostly after 65 years of age is when we start showing the early signs of aging as the normal bodily functions start slowing down. Physical changes become noticeable like grey hair/thinning of hair, lines and wrinkles, dry patchy skin, skin becomes loose and sags along with problems such as lack of sleep, stooped posture, pain in joints, lower immunity and digestion etc are noticeable. It is a natural transformation which everyone has to undergo and cannot avoid.
Our senses are affected as we age, and our taste, hearing, smelling and sense of touch start diminishing. We experience changes in our nervous system and bodily functions, susceptibility to infections, lower metabolic rate and due to the lack/reduction of physical activity our calorie requirement also becomes very less. Vitamin deficiencies, constipation, flatulence (gas problem), loss of teeth etc are common problems faced by older people. It also depends on food habits and lifestyle of a person, genes or heredity factors, care taken throughout our lifetime and exposure to external factors such a pollution and toxins in the environment.
NUTRIENTS REQUIRED DURING OLD AGE
Nutrition plays a very important part in our quality of everyday life in older people. “We are what we eat” is extremely true. What we feed the body gives us the desired output these days. A healthy diet consisting of fiber (vegetables, whole grains, fruits etc), calcium (low-fat milk products), Vitamin B12 ( non-vegetarian foods) along with a healthy walk exposing to sun rays for Vitamin D helps to complete the daily requirement of the body. Drinking healthy liquids like Fresh unsweetened fresh juices with fiber, coconut water, soups along with adequate intake of water helps to keep dehydration away and helps in effective kidney functioning and maintains the body temperature. Sweets, fatty food along with junk food items and foods heavy to digest should be restricted.
NUTRITION-RELATED PROBLEMS IN OLD AGE
Aging affects entire body cells, organs and tissues. Growing old is full of its share of problems both external and internal. Weakened eyesight, loss of hearing, frequency in urination, less effective kidneys, lower metabolism are the common issues faced by older people. Depression and loneliness also lead to contribute to an increase in ailments related to various problems. Due to a weak immune system and lack of physical activity, many chronic health problems are caused in elderly people. Some of the problems faced are:-
It’s the most common problem faced by older people, due to a slow metabolic rate along with a lack of physical activity. Burning the daily calories becomes difficult, as exercising is not possible due to age-related problems, leading to increased weight. It leads to low self-confidence along with a number of heart and respiratory diseases. Old age is synonymous with metabolism problems which are primarily accountable for weight problems in the elderly. Eating food in amounts just required by the body is the key to prevent more weight gain and its related problems.
Loss/Decrease of bone density and mass is termed as osteoporosis. It’s more common in women, especially after menopause. It is the natural wear and tear of the bones. Our bones get weaker and brittle due to aging and factors such as diet and deficiencies accelerate osteoporosis disease. Consumption of calcium and protein-rich foods such as milk, curds, buttermilk, ragi, green leafy vegetables, non-vegetarian foods, almonds, walnuts, and dry figs, til seeds etc. should be done to ensure meeting your increased requirement.
Constipation is not a disease. Fewer bowel movements or difficulty in the passing stool is a common problem of the elderly. The natural contraction of the colon is disturbed because of aging. Drinking lots of water, having a fiber-rich diet, little to moderate physical activity all help in treating constipation naturally. In severe cases stimulants, stool softeners, enemas/suppositories may also be prescribed by your physician to aid in bowel movements.
These are common with the elderly people. They mostly occur due to the changes in the brain as we age. Geriatric neurology is called the neurology of aging. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Neuropathy, strokes etc are results of neurological aging dysfunctions. A healthy and balanced diet along with cutting out risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, high cholesterol, high blood pressure etc help in controlling and dealing with neurological issues.
DENTURES DURING OLD AGE
Oral health is also very important in older people and if not treated at the right time can lead to geriatric denture which directly affects nutritional intake. Dentures are basically a replacement of natural teeth and are also called ‘plates’. Good health and nutrition of older patients depend on the successful wearing of dentures. Initially, it is uncomfortable to resume food habits with the dentures as it leads to improper swallowing and choking. Due to its fragile nature dentures need to be cared for very carefully. Cleaning them every night by brushing them and soaking them in their solution should become a daily self-care ritual which removes bacteria or any food particle and prevents infection or gum irritation. Visiting a dentist regularly is extremely important.
The sense of taste diminishes along with aging. Factors such as bad habits like smoking, drinking, too much caffeine, medications and bad oral hygiene all contribute to it. Difficulty in chewing and swallowing contributes to bad eating habits and incomplete nutrition. Many times selected food items are eliminated from the diet and easy to eat food is preferred. They may also suppress or cause a negative impact on appetite. Many times the denture wearer suffers from sores and bruises and also infection due to ill-fitting dentures.
Sometimes a person may go into depression as they miss out on the feel and touch of food due to the dentures worn. Laziness and unhealthy maintenance of dentures may lead to additional oral health problems. Malnutrition is the common outcome of people wearing dentures, due to their inability to chew/break down healthy food. Healthy foods such as nuts, whole fruits, salads etc can be hardly consumed or improperly consumed and hereby leading to improper digestion.
SOFT DIET FOR DENTURE
After insertion of dentures, liquid food items are prescribed at the beginning like vegetable and fruit juices, a glass of milk, soups and pureed meat items etc. Care has to be taken not to provide too hot food items as due to the dentures the food temperature is not easily judged and may lead to burning or scalding in the mouth. Later soft foods such as seedless and skinless fruits and steamed or boiled vegetables, soft rice, scrambled egg, thick soups are introduced and then after a week, regular solid food items made into tiny pieces for easy digestion can be slowly introduced. You can stick to a soft diet containing your normal daily menu simply altered inconsistency to maintain your nutrition.
Exercising In Old Age
It is the best way to stay fit and healthy for everyone, right from children, adults to older people. Exercise keeps us fit and active, improves our immune system, confidence, improves our quality of life and prevents many heart diseases. It doesn’t need to be strenuous or rigorous. Our body functioning, the impact of illness improves due to regular exercising. Yoga, Pranayam, and Walking are considered the most ideal and best exercises especially for older people, where chances of getting hurt or injuring oneself are the least. Similarly, swimming is another safe exercise which doesn’t put too much pressure on the joints. Besides these, aerobics, cycling, strength and flexibility exercise can be practiced depending on the fitness and endurance level under proper guidance only
Importance and benefits of exercising:-
- Increases life expectancy
- Improves stamina and strength in older people
- Reduces the risk of arthritis and controls swelling and stiffness of joints
- Helps in reducing blood pressure
- Reduces anxiety and depression and helps in overall well being
- Keeps your bones strong and reduces the risk of fracturing bones due to falling
- Helps in preventing/delaying diseases
- It improves overall confidence and happiness
Stay Fit, Stay Young with Right Diet and Nutrition. Happy Eating!