TOP 5 Eating Habits for the Geriatric Population
Written by Leigh Brazeau, PT
There are COUNTLESS articles, followed by blogs, followed by more “expert advice”, and all those interspersed with the latest dementia medicine ads…regarding elderly patients and nutrition. While an overwhelming amount of information is available, there are a few basic tenants and guidelines that are universally agreed upon for healthy eating habits of the geriatric population.
1. Make hydration a priority.
As we age, our perception and recognition of thirst declines. It is not fully understood why, but this becomes dangerous for the elderly population. This loss of sensation is compounded by decreased water composition of the older adult. By the time they feel thirsty, they’re typically in the early stages of dehydration. Adequate water intake is essential for joint lubrication, regulating body temperature, and pumping blood throughout the body. Strategies to combat this may include setting timers or getting a water bottle with “ticks” to denote how much water should be taken in by a certain time.
2. Eat an adequate amount of protein.
It is recommended that the general population eats about 0.8g to 1.0g of protein per 2.2 lbs of bodyweight per day. This is especially important that the older generations meet these needs. It will not completely stave off age-related muscle loss, but it will counter and slow the progression. Information suggests varied forms of protein intake is recommended including a wide variety of Omega-3 rich fish, lean chicken, and legumes. While protein supplements and shakes are better than no protein at all, whole, natural sources are best.
3. Dairy intake is crucial for bone health.
Osteoporosis is prevalent among the elderly. As they say, “sitting is the new smoking.” All too true for the elderly. The bones need to be stressed with weight bearing activities to keep them strong. The joints need weight bearing activities to push nourishing synovial fluid into them. And most of this comes with having strong bones to support those weight bearing activities. Having an adequate daily intake of dairy that includes calcium for bone health and Vitamin D for calcium absorption is essential. The recommended amount of calcium for older adults in 1200mg/day. Vary your sources of calcium to include milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt. Also look for dairy products that are “fortified” in Vitamin D.
4. Eat a variety of whole grains.
Eating healthy carbohydrates is important across the age barrier. Whole grains are touted as the best, this including whole grain cereals, breads, pasta, and brown rice. This is especially important to the geriatric community as it’s linked with improved heart health, decreased cholesterol, decreased risk of diabetes type 2, decreased predisposition certain cancers, and even improved cognitive health and function. Not to mention the fiber intake and digestive health that results. Recommended daily intake for carbohydrates is Women 51+< 5 servings of grains daily, with 3 being from whole wheat sources and Men 51+< 6 servings of grains daily with 3 being from whole wheat sources.
5. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Like whole grains, fruits and vegetables consumed by the elderly population are considered essential as they help oppose certain cancers and diseases. This food group is recommended across the board, in ALL age groups, as making the foundation of nutrition. Fifty percent of your plate is advised to be dominated by vegetables. This is for their abundance of macro and micronutrients essential for health. Increased and varied vegetable intake has also been associated with longevity. What our older population may lack in vitamins could easily be remedied in a varied and colorful (i.e. red, orange, yellow, green(s), and purple) diet.
Better health and disease prevention is there at our fingertips! We just have to be aware and make smarter decisions concerning our nutrition choices.