Healthy eating is important at any age. Giving the body the right nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight can help one stay active and independent. Older patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or stomach problems, however, must be very deliberate about their nutrition and dietary planning. Diet plays a vital role in the effectiveness of medications, physical therapy, and mental health.
Malnutrition is due to under nutrition, nutrient deficiencies or imbalances. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons many older adults are not eating as well as they should, which can lead to poor nutrition or malnutrition, easily being mistaken as a disease or illness. Nearly 3.5 million older adults are malnourished. Healthcare providers should be aware of signs of malnutrition such as loss of appetite, weight loss/gain, general malaise or lack of overall interest in health and wellness.
The meaning and examples of healthy eating changes with aging as metabolism slows down and digestion of certain foods become more difficult. For example, older patients with cognitive impairment or trauma are especially at risk of malnutrition. Alzheimer or cancer patients may need more of certain nutrients. Other changes in body function may impact nutritional intake, such as dentition, or the makeup of a set of teeth (e.g. number of teeth, loss of teeth and/or ill-fitting dentures). Gastrointestinal changes such as chronic gastritis, delayed stomach emptying, constipation and bloating may lead to avoiding healthy foods, such a fruits, and vegetables.