A healthy diet delivers essential nutrients for optimal health and plays an essential role in improving the quality of life and independence of senior citizens. According to the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health, good nutrition may help seniors slow the onset of many diseases, manage the symptoms of chronic illness, lessen the impact of disease on lifestyle and boost longevity.
With the support of family and professional caregivers, as needed, seniors can realize numerous benefits from good nutrition. Among them:
- Greater energy and improved feeling of well-being by providing calories needed to get through the day
- Strengthened immune system and protection against illness
- Reduced incidence of mood swings and depression
- Increased mental focus, reducing the risk for dementia-related conditions. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish, as well as the spice turmeric, green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower show promise in helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
- Reduced risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol through low-sodium and low-fat foods
- Lessened chance of diabetes through weight control and a diet that includes whole grains, multi-colored fruits and vegetables, small amounts of healthy fats, lean poultry, low-fat dairy, and adequate water
- Decreased risk of vision loss from macular degeneration
- Strengthened bones from calcium
- Decreased risk of some forms of cancer
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Improved weight control by concentrating on nutrient-rich foods that are more filling than “empty calorie” foods that lack essential vitamins and minerals
- Younger, healthier-looking skin
- Improved digestion and regularity, through consumption of whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables and adequate hydration
- Greater effectiveness of some medications
- Improved recovery from illness, accident or surgery
Seniors are at a greater risk of malnutrition than younger adults due to a wide range of social circumstances, such as living alone, and health conditions, such as dementia.
These factors can lead to “a cascade of difficulties” that prevent seniors from getting the nutrition needed for healthful living, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Clinic adds that malnutrition leads to serious health consequences and raises the risk of death—and that the effects of malnutrition build up over time, leading to fatigue and a weakened immune system. This can leave seniors vulnerable to pneumonia and other serious infections.
Other effects of senior undernourishment include:
- Increased risk of digestive, lung and heart problems
- Mental confusion
- Worsening of existing health conditions, including dementia
- Increased loss of strength and muscle mass, which can lead to greater risk of falls and fractures
- Anemia, or low blood count
- Changes in brain chemistry that increase the incidence of depression and isolation
- Blood clots
- Bed sores
- Post-surgical complications
- Increased need for hospitalization
- Decreased efficiency of many prescription drugs