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Today in Health & Wellness
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Beyond Obsession with Eternal Youth

"Why older adults need to focus on nutrition"
By: Kristine San Miguel, MDBeyond Obsession with Eternal Youth

Many of the changes associated with aging result from gradual loss of function, starting around age 30. Loss does not become significant until the deficit is fairly extensive in the next 30 years. Consequently, these alterations create negative implications on nutritional status and health. For instance, the sense of smell and taste declines dramatically with aging (taste buds decrease in number and size, affecting sweet and salty tastes the most), which can lead to reduced appetite and weight loss.

Poor oral health and dental problems can lead to chewing difficulties, poor immune system and a monotonous diet that is poor in quality. Progressive loss of vision and hearing, as well as joint diseases may limit mobility and affect the elderly people’s ability to shop for food and prepare meals.

Growing number of seniors at high risk for malnutrition

Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) and micronutrient deficiencies remain the leading nutritional problems in the Philippines. Nearly 5 million (13.2%) adults (including older persons) were found to be underweight and chronically energy deficient. In a local study conducted by Risonar and colleagues in 2009, the energy intakes of seniors are roughly 65% of the amounts required based on their total energy expenditure. Furthermore, 80% of the seniors in another study reported inadequate intake of 4 or more nutrients in their daily meals.

The general impression of a malnourished elderly is a wasted, thin individual with dry scaly skin, thin hair, spooned nails and wound not healing described below. The danger, however, of nutrient deficiency is that signs develop weeks to months of under nutrition.

System

Sign or symptom

Nutrient deficiency

Skin

Dry scaly skin

Zinc/essential fatty acids

Easy bruising

Vitamin C, K

Poor wound healing

Vitamin C, zinc

Dermatitis

Vitamin B complex

Hair

Thin/depigmented

Protein

Easy pluckability

Protein, zinc

Nail

Depigmentation

Albumin

Spooned

Iron

Eyes

Night blindness

Vitamin A, zinc

Eye swelling

Riboflavin

Mouth

Bleeding gums

Vitamin C, riboflavin

Reduced ability to taste

Zinc, vitamin A

Neck

Enlarged thyroid

Iodine

Abdomen

Diarrhea

Niacin, folate, vitamin B12

Liver enlargement

Protein

Extremities

Bone tenderness

Vitamin D

Joint pain

Vitamin C

Muscle tenderness

Thiamine

Edema

Protein

Neurological

Loss control of movement

Vitamin B12

Muscle spasms

Calcium, magnesium

Tingling or pricking sensation

Thiamine, vitamin B12

Memory disorder

Vitamin B12, niacin

Adapted from Ahmed et al 2010

[The average daily intake of food decreases by up to 30% between 20 and 80 years.6 this physiological reduction in appetite, energy intake and unbalanced diet (so called "anorexia of aging") predispose older people to develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies.2]

Maintaining a nutrient-dense diet is critically important for the elderly because of the impact of food intake on health. Studies demonstrate that diet quality has a huge effect on physical and Despite the availability of fortified foods, intakes of these nutrients among the elderly remain inadequate, requiring supplementation. Experts claim that some single-nutrient supplements have shown benefits for chronic disease reduction, mental status improvement and immunity stimulation.  Multivitamin supplements have not been shown to prevent several major chronic diseases but substantially increase vitamin and mineral intakes in blood concentrations, thus improving overall micronutrient status.In critically ill patients, oral liquid energy-dense and high-quality protein supplements have been shown to increase energy and protein intake.

While none of these recommendations lead to the “fountain of youth," a properly addressed nutrition and lifestyle modifications can help foster better nutritional and health status in the elderly.  Older adults taking dietary supplements are advised to read the product labels carefully and consult their healthcare provider regularly.

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