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Dietary Guidelines for the Elderly

As While you’re all enjoying yourselves over the Festive Season, spare a thought for the Senior Citizens in your lives. We all know that a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet is important for the general well being of all people.

What we do not always remember is that some elderly people may be at risk of malnutrition for a variety of reasons. These reasons include:

Feelings of depression:

They do not feel like eating;

  • The use of medication that affects appetite, food intake and absorption of nutrients: The foods that they do consume are not used effectively;
  • Poverty:There is a lack of money to buy food due to small pension funds;
  • Loneliness:They do not feel like cooking for one person;
  • Lack of education regarding nutrition: Wrong cooking methods or the procurement of nutritionally inadequate foods;
  • Dental and other oral problems:They cannot chew, taste or swallow properly;
  • Mental problems: They forget to eat;
  • Decreased functional ability: They physically might be unable to use cutlery etc;
  • Substance abuse: Numerous problems e.g. inadequate absorption, interference with medication or rather uses alcohol instead of eating.

It is for these reasons that they need special care regarding nutrition.

If there is anyone in your family that is showing signs of any of the above symptoms, spare a thought for them and try your best to accommodate them as suggested hereunder.

General Guidelines For Nutritional Care For The Elderly are as follows:
  • Provide nutrient-dense meals and snacks: Nutrient-dense means that a smaller amount of food gives more energy/nutrients, by manipulating the content but not the amount of food consumed. E.g. oil or butter can be added to porridge or full cream milk can be added to soups and gravies. It can also be explained that fruit/yoghurt/milk should be eaten as snacks instead of chips/coke/sweets that provide nothing but empty calories;
  • Food choices should be made from all the different food types: Such as animal and plant protein, fruit and vegetables, fats, sugars and starchy foods;
  • Foods should be visually appealing: The better the plate looks, the better the chances that they will eat;
  • Foods should be tasty: No one wants to eat foods that are not appetising or bland;
  • Foods should be of appropriate consistency: Consistency should be adapted according to individual needs. e.g. softer foods with more fluids might be more acceptable to patients with swallowing difficulties;
  • Sometimes smaller, more frequent meals are more acceptable: Ill patients mostly have a poor appetite. Five to six smaller meals might be a better option than three big meals per day.
By Melissa Pyle, BSc. in Dietetics, Registered Dietician (SA)

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