Avoiding malnutrition in the elderly
According to a 2007 report from the French health authority HAS, malnutrition affects:
- 4 to 10% of elderly people who live at home.
- 15 to 38% of people in residential care (retirement homes, nursing homes etc.)
- Up to 70% of hospitalised elderly persons
Malnutrition stems from an imbalance between food intake and energy used.
People eat less for many reasons: social (e.g. isolation), psychological (e.g. depression) and physiological (e.g. poor oral health or loss of appetite) factors.
Energy requirements may increase subsequent to acute or chronic inflammation due to an infection, a wound, chronic illness or an allergy. Whatever the reason, the body ceases to receive enough nutrients.
Why do elderly people eat less?
Elderly people may eat less for a variety of reasons:
- Loss of appetite due to depression (loneliness, the loss of a loved one)
- Preconceived ideas: “Old people don’t need to eat much”
- Poor oral health (dental issues) implying a loss of taste and chewing difficulties
- At home, issues with shopping such as a loss of autonomy (no local shops, not able to travel far etc.)
A nutritional deficit coupled with an increase in metabolic requirements is the main cause of malnutrition in elderly people.
Nutrition after 60: Dispelling the myths!
“I should eat less meat”: WRONG, requirements don’t decrease with age. Muscles, cell rejuvenation and the immune system require nutrients.
“I should eat less fat”: WRONG, fat or lipids should represent 35-40% of total energy intake. Make sure you consume vegetable oils, oily fish and nuts. But don’t deprive yourself of butter and cream. Any geriatric specialist will tell you that a “chubby” elderly patient is easier to treat than a skinny one.
“It doesn’t matter if I eat less for a few days”: WRONG, elderly people take longer and require more effort to process food. Weight loss often means muscle wasting, which is difficult to overcome.
If you have a small appetite, eat little and often throughout the day.
Hot drink to rehydrate the organism when you wake up
Unrefined cereals (wholegrain bread or toast)
Butter and jam
Yoghurt or fromage blanc
Fresh fruit (kiwi, orange etc.)
A starter and/or raw fruit
A dish comprising meat or fish and vegetables and/or carbohydrates.
Cheese or other dairy product
Fruit, a dairy product and/or a Nutrisens madeleine
Soup or starter
Protein (ham, egg, quiche etc.)
With vegetables, rice, pasta, potatoes or salad
Cheese or other dairy product
Tips for elderly people who live at home!
If you have difficulty doing your shopping:
- Use your freezer: meat, bread, cheese, cooked vegetables and soup can all be frozen. You just need to cook them or reheat them once defrosted.
- Use home delivery: several chains will deliver to your door.
- Stock up on rice, pasta and tinned food.
If you have difficulty preparing meals:
- Use easy-cook solutions: frozen fish or vegetable dishes, stewed fruit, cheese etc.
- Check if there is a meals-on-wheels service in your area. Ask the local authorities.
- Butcher’s deli counters often have a variety of ready-made dishes.
At home or in a residential home, if you have difficulty eating, especially chewing:
- Mince or blend your food with its juice or a sauce.
- Replace meat with fish or an omelette.
- Eat yoghurt rather than hard cheese.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice. They may recommend dietary supplements or enriched food.
Weigh yourself regularly – once a month – and let your doctor know if you lose weight significantly.