It can be challenging for anyone to maintain a properly balanced diet. But elderly people are especially vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition and must be vigilant about their nutritional intake. According to a recent study, nearly one third of geriatric clients do not consume the proper balance of nutrients.
Lorenzo Maria Donini of the Department of Experimental Medicine and Medical Physiopathology, Food Science and Endocrinology Section of the University of Rome led a study that compared the dietary habits of 526 elderly individuals living independently, in residential centers, and in acute treatment facilities. Donini looked specifically at the type of diet, the level of vitamins and macronutrients consumed, and the amount of food types, including meats, dairy, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetable.
The results revealed that approximately one third of the participants consumed a lower amount of food than recommended and had a reduced nutritional intake. In other words, they ate less in general and also ate less of what was good for them. The two food groups that were consumed the least were those of protein sources, including fish, eggs, and meat, and those of fruits and vegetables. These are especially important dietary elements, as they help with overall physical and mental health.
Donini believes that several factors contribute to food decline in the elderly. Mental health issues can decrease appetite, while stress, anxiety, isolation, and loneliness can cause someone to lose interest in pleasurable activities like cooking and eating. Physical and physiological problems increase in old age and can cause challenges related to chewing, swallowing, and digesting particular foods.
“Overall the results seem to suggest that clinically complex patients have a more limited dietary variety than their healthy peers,” said Donini, noting that the participants in the acute treatment facilities had the lowest nutritional content in their diets. Because nutrition is critically important for overall health, it is imperative that elderly individuals have access to and education about the types of foods that are most essential for them. Donini hopes that the results of this study will serve to accelerate efforts in that area.
Donini, L.M., Poggiogalle, E., Piredda, M., Pinto, A., Barbagallo, M., et al. (2013). Anorexia and eating patterns in the elderly. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63539. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063539
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