The importance of good nutrition & hydration for the elderly01/08/19
In support of Nutrition and Hydration Week, we address how to maintain good nutrition and hydration as we age.
Nutrition has a big impact on our health, regardless of our age. A balanced diet provides the body with the nutrients and energy it needs to function properly and can lesson our risk of developing chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. It is vital for maintaining a healthy weight and helps us stave off colds and infections.
A well balanced diet
The UK government’s recommendations for a balanced diet are depicted in the Eatwell Guide.
The Eatwell Guide shows how much of what you eat should come from each food group. This includes everything you eat and drink during the day.
So, try to:
- Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates; choosing wholegrain versions where possible
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks); choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts
- Drink 6 to 8 cups/glasses of fluid a day
- If consuming foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar have these less often and in small amounts
Signs and symptoms of malnourishment (poor nutrition):
- Weight loss/weight gain
- Muscle weakness
- Increased number of falls
- Poor skin health/pressure sores
- Changes in behaviour/cognitive problems/memory loss
- Increased infections
Possible causes of malnourishment:
- Forgetting to eat, potentially caused by dementia
- Certain medications can cause reduced appetite
- Sore mouth or poorly fitting dentures
- Physical issues such as chewing and swallowing problems caused by a stroke or medical condition
- Eating small amounts or slowly, feeling embarrassed about making a mess, being unable to lift drinks or visual impairment can also be contributing factors
How to prevent malnourishment?
- If eating 3 main meals a day seems overwhelming, try 6-8 smaller, more frequent meals
- Ask what they’d like to eat to encourage an appetite
- Have ready-to-eat snacks available such as yogurt or fruit
- Opt for higher calorie, nourishing foods such as coffee made with full-fat milk, cheese and crackers or porridge with honey
- Plan visits around mealtimes so that you can eat together
- Visit the GP to rule out any underlying illnesses or for further guidance
- Rapid weight loss may indicate a need for additional support. It may be time to consider hiring some additional support, such as a live-in carer or nurse.
Good hydration is critical for maintaining bodily functions, including the heart, brain and muscles. Maintaining healthy fluid levels lowers the risk of contracting a urinary tract infection, which can be dangerous for the elderly. The elderly can be more susceptible to dehydration if they struggle to recognise when they are thirsty or are unable to communicate their needs, so it is important to keep a close eye on them and know the signs of dehydration.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration:
- Thirst/dry mouth
- Dark concentrated urine
- Urine passed infrequently in small amounts (less than 3 or 4 times a day)
- Muscle cramps
- Drop in blood pressure – dizziness, unbalanced
- Change in mood or mobility
- It is recommended that adults drink 6-8 glasses of fluid per day (1.5 to 2 litres)
- Water rehydrates the body best. Supplement with other liquids such as tea, juice or milk as needed in order to meet fluid requirements
- Promote hydration by reminding and encouraging them to drink
- Have a glass of water within easy reach of the individual and replenish their drink regularly
- Some people may be tempted to drink less fluids if they fear incontinence or have difficulty getting to a toilet. Explain that this can actually exacerbate their condition, since drinking less can result in urine that’s more concentrated and more irritating to the bladder
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- British Dietetic Association - Guide to good nutrition and hydration in older age
- British Dietetic Association - Five tips to boost good nutrition and hydration in older age
- Dementia UK - Eating and Drinking - Staying well with dementia
- Age UK - Healthy Eating Guide
- Malnutrition Task Force
- Eating enough in later life: Advice for carers
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