March is National Nutrition Month
"An apple a day...; "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything" and other similar statements surround us in our daily lives. But, why are they important especially to older adults? It's because malnutrition and chronic disease are critical health concerns for older adults and their caregivers and have a considerable impact on health care outcomes and costs and on the individuals independence. Nutritional needs become even more critical with advancing age, especially as people recuperate from acute and chronic health problems.
Nutrition helps keep older adults healthy and independent in the community by preventing malnutrition, reducing the risk of chronic diseases and related disabilities, supporting better mental and physical functioning, and managing common chronic diseases. Evidence, including reports such as Healthy People 2010, clearly demonstrates that nutrition is central to disease treatment and management.
Many chronic diseases have dietary and nutritional implications. These in turn influence the ability of older adults to remain independent in the community. Malnutrition, including obesity and being underweight, is closely associated with decreased functionality. Underweight and obese older adults need more caregiver assistance and are at greater risk of falls and hip fractures. Preventing these two serious conditions is a primary goal of improving nutritional well-being through a healthy diet. Nutrition services are vital in helping older adults achieve good nutritional status and remain healthy, physically active and independent with a good quality of life.
Obesity is nationally recognized as a major public health issue with significant associated consequences. According to Healthy People 2010:
"Many diseases are associated with overweight and obesity. Persons who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and some types of cancer. The health outcomes related to these diseases, however, often can be improved through weight loss or, at a minimum, no further weight gain. Total costs (medical costs and lost productivity) attributable to obesity alone amounted to an estimated $99 billion in 1995."
Other nutritional needs of older adults are associated with medications, oral health and social isolation. Side effects and drug-nutrient interactions associated with some medications may cause malabsorption of nutrients, weight loss, anemia, dehydration, low or high blood sugar, fatigue and depression, all of which may lead to poor nutrition and other serious health complications. Poor oral health may limit the type, quantity and consistency of food eaten, increasing nutritional risk. Social isolation in older adults may often create feelings of loneliness which can affect dietary intake and increase an individual's risk for malnutrition.
What steps should you to take to improve nutritional status?
- Follow the current dietary guidelines and increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains you eat daily; go for variety,
- Add nutrient-dense foods to your diet and reduce calorie intake as you get older,
- Use less salt; reduce the amount and number of processed foods you eat,
- Drink more water; hydration is very important for older adults,
- Limit consumption of fatty foods especially those with saturated and trans fats,
- Limit alcohol use,
- Avoid junk foods; like alcohol, these are empty calories,
- Use a vitamin and mineral supplement if your daily diet is low in nutrients,
- Weigh yourself regularly; watch for unexplained changes in weight,
- Increase your physical activity,
- Stay in touch with friends and family,
- Stop using tobacco products,
- Check with your doctor and other health care providers before making changes in your diet and physical activity.
It's never too late to improve your eating habits. Even small changes can make a difference in your health status and how you feel. For more information about good nutrition and physical activity: