Nutrition for Older People
Why is Nutrition for Older People so Important?
Good nutrition is important at any age. Eating the right mixture of fats, carbohydrates and proteins, and fuelling our bodies with plenty of water, gives us both mental and physical energy, and it can help to maintain a healthy weight. Good nutrition can also help to ward off certain medical conditions and diseases, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
Here at Randolph Hill, our in-house chefs and kitchen teams are responsible for providing nutritionally balanced, freshly prepared meals that consider important dietary aspects to ensure that residents eat well.
We cater for specific diets and have vegetarian options, so even if a resident has particular preferences, or can only eat a limited diet, we’ll always have something on the menu that they can enjoy.
Older people have certain nutritional needs that are important for keeping them healthier, including:
In younger people, taking a B12 supplement is only usually necessary for those following a vegan diet, as it’s found in meat and dairy products. It’s important for fighting fatigue, supporting the formation of red blood cells, and developing brain and nerve cells – so if you’re deficient in it, you may feel extreme tiredness and have issues with your central nervous system.
It’s important that those over the age of 60, whether they follow a vegan diet or not, include B12 in their diet, as the body’s ability to digest this vitamin decreases as we get older.
Calcium and Vitamin D
As we get older, our bones become thinner and more susceptible to breaking. More than 3 million people in the UK suffer from osteoporosis; the majority of them are older people. One of the ways to combat the condition is to eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, including foods such as milk and cheese, leafy green vegetables, oily fish and red meat.
Potassium can help to reduce high blood pressure and the risk of kidney stones, but as we age, bodily changes can affect the potassium levels in the body. Women over the age of 65 are particularly vulnerable to low levels of potassium, so it’s important that meals for older people include the right balance – enough to get the benefits, but not too much, as kidney function starts to decrease in older people, meaning they may not be able to remove potassium from the blood as easily.
Fibre is important for maintaining a healthy digestive system, particularly as we age when digestion can start to slow down. A healthy balanced diet for older people will include plenty of fibre to improve digestion, reducing the likelihood of medical conditions like constipation, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Cereals, grains, fruit and vegetables can all contribute to an older person’s fibre intake.
Unintended Weight Loss in Older People
Some older people find that they start to lose weight, either due to a medical condition or simply through a loss of appetite.
Losing weight is common in people with dementia, and unintended rapid weight loss can contribute to a faster progression of the condition as well as increasing the risk of related conditions and side effects. If your relative has dementia, then you may have noticed some challenges around eating, whether they’re struggling to communicate their hunger, refusing to eat, have problems remembering how to eat or are uninterested in food due to a low mood.
It’s important, then, to take this into account when creating our care home nutrition plans. We need to make it as easy as possible for all of our residents to get the nutrients they need, taking into account their individual needs and challenges they might face.
We aim to make our food interesting, nutritious and tempting, particularly for those who need to put on weight, or are struggling to eat, or can only eat a limited diet. Our in-house chef is therefore responsible for providing appetising meals and nutritious plans tailored to our residents. We also ensure that tempting snacks, such as fresh fruit and home baking, are available during the day, to encourage those residents at risk of losing weight to maintain a healthy calorie intake.
Should Older People Take any Supplements?
Most of us should be able to get the nutrients we need from a healthy balanced diet, but sometimes we need a little extra help.
It can be hard to get enough vitamin D in the UK, particularly during the winter months, as when exposed to sunlight, our skin can manufacture its own vitamin D. It is therefore recommended that everyone takes 10 micrograms of vitamin D as a supplement between October and March, and elderly people may want to do so year-round, particularly if they’re unable to get outside.
Older people with a vitamin B12 deficiency may need to supplement with 2 micrograms or less every day, which can be taken as a tablet. More serious B12 deficiencies can be managed with a regular course of injections, but this treatment is on prescription. If one of our residents has a deficiency that needs to be managed this way, then we’ll work closely with their GP.
For any other deficiencies, it’s important to work alongside your relative’s medical care team to assess whether any supplements are needed or whether vitamin intake can be improved through their diet. If your relative is very underweight, then their GP may recommend a course of weight gain supplements, but again, this will always be managed individually for each resident.
The Value of Socialising at Mealtimes
At Randolph Hill, we understand the importance of socialising, particularly at mealtimes. As mentioned, some older people find that they lose interest in food, but making mealtimes a social event can help residents to eat more.
We find that, for many of our residents, mealtimes are one of the highlights of their day as they come together with friends. For residents with dementia, a social mealtime can evoke familiar memories and can even prompt them to eat and drink more by encouraging ‘copycat’ behaviour.
Of course, not everyone wants to eat a meal with other people every day. That’s why we also offer our residents the option to eat in their bedroom rather than the dining room.
We also offer snacks throughout the day, so people can eat when they please. This may be a good option for those who struggle to eat three large meals a day, as they opt for smaller meals and snacks throughout the day to ensure that they are still getting all the nutrients they need.