An individual's nutrition at the age of 60, 70 or 80 years is the product of the influence of heredity, environment and nutrition in the preceding years. Older people are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. With the discovery of life-saving drugs and eradication of infectious diseases, life expectancy has gone up along with the percentage of elderly people in the community. The percentage was found to be around 9.1% by the year 2000.
Factors that have a negative influence on health and nutrition of aged are:
1. Lack of family support, at the time of need due to nuclear family pattern.
2. Feeling of unwantedness.
3. Economic constraints.
4. Mental stress
5. Loneliness leading to disinterestedness in living and eating resulting in poor appetite and malnutrition.
Aging process involves changes in physiological conditions of a person. There is a decrease in metabolism of the tissues as a result of aging. The Basal Metabolic Rate is significantly reduced in older people. Therefore, energy intake needs to be reduced.
Decreased secretion of saliva and decreased gastric acidity are common among older people. Decreased gastric acidity reduces the rate of absorption of iron and calcium.
The enzyme activities of the digestive juices are decreased. Fats are poorly tolerated due to inadequate production of bile and pancreatic lipase. Changes in the intestinal mucosa result in decreased absorption of nutrients in old people.The sense of taste and smell are less acute in old age. Loss of taste, Demineralization of bone and reduced muscle tone of the intestines do occur in this period.
Energy: as a result of reduced basal metabolism and physical activity in old age, the calorie requirements are less than that of adults.
Proteins: The tendency to eat less as a result of decreased appetite and poor digestive capacity, old people are likely to consume less protein and suffer from protein deficiency.
Carbohydrates: Elderly people tend to consume more of carbohydrates rich foods which require minimum chewing, which are easily digestible as well.
Fat: Fat consumption should be moderate. The major part of the fat may come from vegetable oils, rich in essential fatty acids.
Calcium: Calcium is necessary for the strength of bones in the body. Lack of this mineral results in osteoporosis and in periodontal diseases among the elderly.
Iron: Iron is essential for the formation of hemoglobin in the blood and to prevent anemia. During the old age absorption of iron is adversely affected, hence diet should comprise of iron supplements.
Water: fluid intake should be adequate to maintain the volume of urine excreted.
Fibre: Dietary fiber contributes to the bulk of stools and helps to relieve constipation. It lowers blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels as it interferes with their absorption.