Could Poor Diet Be Causing Health Problems In The Elderly?

Diet plays a significant factor in daily life for everyone, this is because dietary choices can have a huge impact on our overall health and well-being. As we age it becomes increasingly important to watch what we eat in order to ensure that we are getting all of the nutrients that we need as is a well known fact that the body changes as we age, and in order to maintain a healthy, independent lifestyle, and the best way of doing this is by ensuring you follow a balanced diet.

The symptoms of poor diet or malnutrition can be weight loss, disorientation, light headedness, lethargy and loss of appetite and be easily mistaken for illness or disease.

A previous study in the UK showed that over 70,000 people die in the UK each year due to poor diet and these people could have lived another 10 years. In the US a study showed that over 40% of people die due to lifestyle choices, diet being a big part of this.

What is a balanced diet?

A balanced diet ensures that you stay healthy by providing you with all of the nutrients that your body needs, from all of the major food groups. These are fruit and vegetables (aim for five a day), fibre, dairy , protein , and small amounts of sugar can be beneficial for maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Fibre

It is important that as we age our fibre intake increases, and this is because the elderly are at greater risk of experiencing digestive problems such as constipation. Foods high in fibre include: bread, rice, breakfast cereals and pasta. The wholegrain varieties contain higher levels of fibre. Other sources of fibre include: potatoes, beans, lentils, peas, oats, fruit and vegetables. Fibre has been proven to have a number of health benefits including: preventing diabetes, heart disease, weight gain and some cancers.

Iron

Iron is key to ensuring the body stays healthy. Sources of iron include: red meat, although no more than 70g (cooked weight) a day, oily fish, eggs, and pulses have also been found to be good sources of iron. It is essential that adequate iron levels are maintained because iron deficiency can cause a number of health problems including: weakness, damaged immunity, and cognitive function.

Calcium

Calcium rich foods and drinks play a key role in older individual’s diet. This is because Osteoporosis is a major health issue that impacts the elderly, especially women. Osteoporosis is where the bone density decreases and the risk of fractures increases. Calcium rich foods include: dairy products, canned fish with bones (e.g. sardines), soya beans, tofu, and green leafy vegetables.

Sodium

Sodium levels can have a major impact on the health of an older individual, as high sodium levels can cause a number of health problems including: high blood pressure, heart disease, and confusion. The best way of avoiding a high sodium diet would be by not adding salt into meals. Checking food labels is also another useful way to ensure that you are not exceeding the recommended daily amount of salt.

Vitamins A and D

Vitamin D maintains healthy bones, as it can help to absorb calcium. Sources of vitamin D include: exposure to sunlight, eggs, oily fish, fortified cereals and spreads. It is important that elderly individuals get an adequate level of vitamin D in order to prevent conditions such as Osteoporosis. Vitamin A levels need to be monitored too much can increase the likelihood of bone fractures. Foods such as liver are high in vitamin A and shouldn’t be eaten more than once a week.

Lack of Appetite and Thirst

As we age it is likely that we will want to eat and drink less, or become less interested in food and drink. This is because as we age we generally become less active, meaning that we are burning fewer calories. Other reasons that older people may experience a loss of appetite include: poor mobility, as food preparation and shopping become difficult, and lack of interest. For example individual’s may have no interest in cooking and preparing meals, a method of ensuring that they eat would be to buy convenience foods such as tinned or microwaveable meals.

Home Care

Home care packages could be a beneficial way of ensuring that an elderly individual is receiving all of the nutrients that they need to maintain a balanced diet. This could be effective because a care worker would be able to visit the individual on a regular basis to assist with or to prepare meals for the individual. This would be beneficial because it ensures that they are eating an adequate amount of food and receiving all of the nutrients that they need in order to maintain a balanced diet. This type of home care package could also be beneficial because it could increase an individual’s interest in food, which in turn could increase their independence for longer.

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