I have long been concerned about the nutritional adequacy of the diets of most of our senior citizens whether resident in their own homes or in various forms of care. Very often, when left to their own devices many older people cannot be bothered to prepare proper meals and many of them fall into a toast and tea or coffee regime: they do what is easiest without recognizing or realizing the longer term consequences of this behaviour. They often become seriously under nourished. Many do not maintain an adequate intake of fluids, particularly water, sometimes due to fear of incontinence or of inability to get to the toilet in time, even when they have dementia. Dehydration may cause brain shrinkage, headaches, memory loss and an inability to think clearly and logically. It can also cause serious kidney malfunction.
As we age, we often become less active physically and stress levels should diminish all of which reduces our energy intake requirements. A situation which, in combination with a declining digestive system, amplifies the requirement to maintain a nutritionally adequate and balanced diet. This also maintains the immune system, body warmth, energy levels, mental activity and the body’s natural healing and repair functions. Almost conversely, it becomes more critical that as the food quantity diminishes the need for appropriate fundamental quality and adequate nutritional balance increases. To avoid doing the elderly a grave disservice we need to better understand and provide for their nutritional needs taking into account the issues that also arise from their aging metabolisms.
I also believe that it is important for the elderly to remain as physically active as possible in order to maintain bone and muscular strength as well as their balance and blood circulation. Sadly, there are many older men in nursing homes, and elsewhere, who appear to be losing weight and muscle tone through being inadequately fed: quantity and quality wise. There are also increasing numbers of elderly women with open, ulcerated sores on their shins that will not heal: due often to the combined lack of an adequate diet and physical activity regime causing poor blood circulation. They all require quality sources of protein and vegetables in their diets not snacks, convenience foods, bread, cakes and biscuits etc.
The maintenance of good nutritional status in this group is critical. The elderly have the right to enjoy healthy, productive and fulfilling lives. Better nutrition will ensure greater independence for longer, better quality of life, higher immunity, lower mortality and less need to progress to higher, more expensive forms of care.
All human beings need to eat their body weight in quality food per month if they are to maintain body weight and good health. This requirement is inescapable. If there is insufficient food the outcome is loss of weight, malnutrition and a declining immune system leading to poorer quality of life, ill health and reduced life expectancy.