One-third of older adults are at nutritional risk due to lack of appetite, reduced taste and smell, eating alone and medication side effects. Poor nutrition weakens the immune system, muscles and bones, increasing the risks of infections, falls and fractures. Older adults can eat well and improve nutrition by being physically active, eating regular meals, choosing healthy snacks, enhancing food flavours, and sharing meals with family, friends or peers.
Eating Disorders Awareness Week is held in the first week of February. Although people often think of eating disorders in relation to teens and young adults, about one-third of Canadians 65 and older are at nutritional risk, says McMaster University.
Older adults are particularly vulnerable to nutritional risks due to age-related physiological changes such as diminished appetite, a reduced sense of taste and smell, and chewing or swallowing problems, reports Statistics Canada. Poor nutrition can weaken the immune system and slow wound healing, according to Mayo Clinic. It also weakens muscles and bones, which can lead to falls, fractures, and hospitalization.
Some possible warning signs of eating or nutritional problems include: an unwanted loss or gain of 10 pounds in six months; eating less than two meals a day; eating few fruits, vegetables or milk products; eating alone most of the time; having tooth or mouth problems that make it hard to eat; and taking three or more medications a day, according to University of Ottawa.
Simple solutions for eating well
Although it may be challenging to get the nutrients you need with aging, here are some simple things you can do to make healthy eating easier:
1. Be physically active. Exercising or taking a walk before meals helps boost your appetite if you’re not eating enough, says Dietitians of Canada.
2. Eat regularly. Eat at regular times each day, aiming for at least three food groups for each meal, even if portions are small, advises Dietitians of Canada. If you’re hungry or need to gain weight, enjoy healthy snacks between meals.
3. Enhance food flavours.Add herbs and spices to increase the flavour of foods, and stimulate your sense of smell and taste buds, suggests HealthLink BC.
4. Be sociable. Eat with family and friends, or a group in a community seniors’ centre or retirement community. Eating with others provides social interaction, making meals more interesting and appetizing, says HealthLink BC.
5. Stay hydrated. Older adults are more likely to become dehydrated because thirst diminishes with age, according to HealthLink BC. Sip water, juices, tea, other beverages or broths through the day to help digestion and prevent constipation.
6. Choose soft foods. If you have trouble swallowing, biting or chewing, eat softer foods from different food groups such as soups, pasta, oatmeal, yogurt, pureed vegetables and fruits, eggs and lentils, advises Dietitians of Canada.