Who is an elderly person?
Individuals of 60 years and above (WHO) are called elderly. In India, the elderly constitute about 7 percent of the total population (Census, 2001) and by 2016 AD, this is likely to increase to 10 percent.
How are elderly different?
Ageing affects almost all the systems of the body, and is associated with several physiological, metabolic and psychological changes. Body composition changes with advancing age, and these changes affect nutritional needs of the elderly.
The changes include:
- Low appetite: Elderly often complain of low appetite due to various reasons:
- As a result of tooth and gum problems, they tend to omit foods like raw fruits and vegetables which require more chewing. This can lead to low fibre in the diet leading to intestinal problems
- Difficulty in holding of utensils and proper eating of food
- Diminished sense of taste and smell and flavour loss
- There is a decreased secretion of digestive enzymes,
- Decreased physical activity leading to overall decrease of food intake and poor absorption of nutrients
- Inability to prepare food, economic dependency and other psycho-social problems
- Decline in immune function with advancing age, which leads to decreased resistance to infectious diseases
- Elderly are at increased risk of osteoporosis and osteomalacia ie defective bone mineralization due to lack of exposure to sunlight and poor diet
- Failing eye-sight and impaired hearing
What are the common diseases among the elderly?
Elderly are more prone to diseases due to lowered food intake, physical activity and resistance to infection.
The common ailments in the elderly are degenerative diseases such as arthritis (joint diseases), osteoporosis, cataract, stroke, heart diseases, neurological (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s) and psychiatric (dementia, depression,delirium) disorders and cancer. Elderly need more calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A and antioxidants to prevent age-related degenerative diseases and for healthy ageing.
Healthy Lifestyle for elderly:
In general, majority of the health problems among the elderly are nutrition related. Consumption of nutritious foods rich in micronutrients including antioxidant vitamins and minerals and fiber, comfortable level of physical activity will enable the elderly to live active and meaningful healthy lives.
- Energy: Older people become physiologically less active and therefore need fewer calories to maintain their weights. Intake of energy rich foods like sweets, fried or high fat foods, cereals, starches need to be reduced
- Carbohydrates: Dietary fiber has a beneficial effect in conditions like constipation, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and adequate amount of fiber rich foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and pulses should be included
- Protein: Low fat foods rich in protein such as pulses, toned milk, egg-white etc. should be given
- Fats: Oil containing high level of PUFA such as sunflower oil, soya bean oil etc. should be used to control the conditions of hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases
- Minerals and vitamins: An adequate intake of calcium should be ensured to compensate for its losses due to demineralization of bones with ageing. Since sufficient exposure to sunshine is essential to meet the body’s needs for vitamin D, in case of elderly individuals confined to bed, supplements of this vitamin need to be provided. Adequate intake of fruits and vegetables to provide important minerals and vitamins should be there
- Small quantities of food should be consumed at more frequent intervals and adequate water should be consumed to avoid dehydration
- The diet should be soft, well cooked and should include foods that need little or no chewing like milk and milk products, soft cooked eggs, tender meats, gruels, soft cooked vegetables, grated salad, fruit juices, soft fruits like banana or stewed fruits
- The food for the elderly should be colourful and attractive to arouse their appetite
Physical activity as a part of healthy lifestyle:
Along with good nutrition, exercise is an integral part of maintaining healthy life. The risk of degenerative diseases and injuries is considerably decreased by regular exercise. Exercise schedule should be decided in consultation with a physician.