DIET QUALITY ISSUES FOR AGING POPULATIONS

Presenter: Katherine Tucker


Tucker remarked that the focus of her talk would be on how dietary needs change with aging, which nutrients in particular are important for aging populations, and the challenge of achieving access to and consumption of a high quality diet given the obstacles already discussed by other speakers (e.g., loss of appetite, oral health decline, mobility constraints).

How Dietary Needs Change with Aging

Dietary needs change with aging in several ways:

  • People become less active, their metabolism slows, their energy requirement decreases, all of which mean that they need to eat less.

  • Recent research demonstrates that because older adults’ abilities to absorb and utilize many nutrients become less efficient, their nutrient requirements (particularly as a function of body mass) actually increase. Tucker mentioned that the last set of nutrition recommendations issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) include separate recommendations for people age 70 and above for this reason (IOM, 2006).

  • Tucker noted that as some of the previous speakers had discussed, chronic conditions and medications can affect nutrition requirements. For example, in addition to drug-nutrient interactions affecting drug metabolism, some drug-nutrient interactions are also nutrient wasting. This is especially true of the B vitamins.

Maintaining a nutrient-dense diet is critically important for older adults because of the impact of food intake on health. Years of research have demonstrated that diet quality has a huge effect on physical condition, cognitive condition, bone health, eye health, vascular function, and the immune system. Yet, this can be challenging to achieve for several reasons:

  • As Pelchat discussed, aging is often accompanied by a loss of appetite and changes in taste and smell, all of which can lead to more limited food choices and lower intake of healthful foods.

  • As Jensen discussed, aging is also often accompanied by general oral health decline and a reduced ability to swallow, which can affect food choice and intake.

  • Many older adults experience mobility constraints, which make it difficult to shop for food, lift heavy jars, open containers, etc.



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