Does Nutritional Intake Decrease with Age?

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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  • Frannie


    June 13th, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    In many cases it would be beneficial to get a geriatric nutritional counselor involved, someone to work with the patient one on one about the importan ce of nutrition and who could help to guide the patient to make more responsible and palatable nutritional decisions.

  • TIM


    June 14th, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    As we age our nutritional needs change, and may times this has to do with other medical issues that we are facing as well as medications that we could be taking. It is very important to have doctors as well as family members and caregivers who are aware of those needs and who are making a 100% effort to make sure that their loved ones are eating correctly and getting all of the nutrients that they need to stay strong. We have all seen seniors who rapidly go down hill after bouts with dehydration and eating too little- this is so easily avoided if there are people in their lives who are paying attention to what they eat and making sure that a healthy diet is available to them.

  • eddie


    June 15th, 2013 at 12:39 AM

    not to be disrespectful,but all of us,and not jsut the seniors,will eat better if we start associating our diet more with health than with physical appearance.a lot of people dedicate their diet wholly to appearance and when that is not of importance just let it slide!

  • Kendall O

    Kendall O

    June 17th, 2013 at 4:28 AM

    I work for an oral surgeon and we see a lot of older patients who can’t eat very well because of tooth and gum decay and disease. Most of them tell us that it is not that they don’t want to eat but that when you can’t chew or it hurts to try, you kind of give up on food.

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