Important to Know When Preparing Food for the Elderly

At various ages, nutritious foods play an important role in supporting physical health, including for the elderly. However, over time, the elderly experience decreased appetite due to natural conditions and certain health factors that occur in their bodies. This decrease in appetite makes nutritional intake not fulfilled properly. In fact, nutrition is needed for the elderly to help the body stay energized.

Consider what causes a decrease in appetite for the elderly and how to prepare food for them so that their nutrition can be fulfilled optimally.

The cause of decreased appetite when you get older

Generally, the elderly experience decreased appetite, largely due to the effects of decreased physical health . According to the journal Nursing Older People , about 15 to 30 percent of older people experience anorexia as they age. Decreased appetite causes the elderly to lose weight and lack of adequate nutrition.

There are several things that cause the elderly to have difficulty eating .

1. Difficulty chewing

Oral and dental health is closely related to the fulfillment of nutrition for the elderly. Cavities and bleeding gums are a common condition of the elderly, which makes it difficult for them to chew food. 

Based on a study from the Dental Research Journal , 160 elderly people, on average, are 80 years old who are unable to fulfill their nutrition optimally. This is because there is a relationship between masticatory difficulties, namely decreased ability to chew and bite food. When the elderly have difficulty chewing, it is difficult for them to process food.

Poor oral health is influenced by a poor quality diet, for example from the selection of foods that affect the health of the teeth. In addition, the elderly who do not carefully care for oral and dental hygiene also have an impact on their oral health. The emergence of dental and oral problems, makes the elderly reluctant to eat and may lose the nutrients the body needs.

2. Difficulty swallowing food

Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing food occurs with age. This can happen to the elderly, although not all. This difficulty swallowing is due to muscle stiffness, the esophagus muscles cannot relax, the esophagus is narrow due to its structure, and so on.

In addition, the decrease in nerve and muscle function affects the coordination process of chewing and swallowing food. These various things cause a choking sensation in the esophagus when he swallows food. This condition often occurs in the elderly with Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

Dysphagia in the elderly can be characterized by the following things.

  • Food gets stuck in the throat or chest
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Choking
  • Food or drink that has been swallowed, returns to the mouth or nose

Elderly people who find it difficult to process food cause their bodies to not get enough nutrition. In the end, it can lead to weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration.

3. Digestive problems

The processing power of food between young adults and the elderly is different. The elderly tend to eat smaller portions, eat more slowly, and are less hungry. This change in appetite is influenced by slow digestion in digesting and emptying the stomach.

This makes the elderly feel full faster and their appetite decreases. This slow eating process results in the elderly often experiencing digestive system problems, such as constipation or difficulty defecating.

Satiety arises because the limbs communicate with each other. Satiety signals received through the communication between the digestive system are sent to the brain. The brain seems to order to stop eating. The leptin hormone released by the body sends a full signal to the brain because the stomach is still filled with food. While the hormone ghrelin, which is a hormone that controls appetite , tends to be low in the elderly.

This condition often impacts digestive disorders, from heartburn (dyspepsia), GERD, to constipation. 10 Digestive problems also interfere with the absorption of nutrients needed for the body. Unbalanced nutrition can result in the elderly not having energy due to the loss of bone and muscle mass faster, as well as a low immune system, which increases the risk of disease infections.

Serves nutritious food for the elderly

Various conditions of decreased appetite in the elderly are difficult to avoid. However, there are several ways that can be applied to keep the body optimally nourished. Fulfillment of important nutrients for the body in increasing energy so that the elderly can still be physically active independently.

Not only that, nutrition keeps the immune system working in preventing infection, including reducing the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart problems, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

The food given needs to be adjusted to the body’s condition of the elderly. Starting from the selection of nutrition, food processing, and dietary arrangements. 

1. Provide nutritious and easy to digest food

In order for the elderly to have a healthy quality of life and have a powerful body, make sure that they have enough nutrition. In choosing a food menu, it is better to focus on intake that encourages energy. The selection of important nutrients is useful for maintaining a normal body weight, strengthening muscles, and supporting their metabolism.

Here are the choices of nutrients that are easily digested by the body and support the health of the elderly.

Protein

Protein intake in each elderly’s daily menu provides muscle strength and increases energy in the elderly in activities. The Population Reference Intake set by the European Food Safety Authority recommends protein intake for adults (young and old) to reach 0.83 protein / kg. 14 Healthy protein intake can be obtained from eggs, soft cooked poultry or beef, fish without bones, and milk.

The elderly can also be given additional intake of milk containing whey protein. Whey protein in particular, in liquid form, is easily absorbed and speeds up gastric emptying, so that the elderly can still eat food afterward.

Biologically, whey protein is also good because it contains complete amino acids and is easily absorbed by the body. In The Journal of Nutrition study, it was said that amino acids played an effective role in restoring muscle mass and building muscle strength in the elderly. In general, older people experience loss of muscle mass as they age. So that, assisted by regular amino acid intake, of course, will enable the elderly to be physically active in their daily activities.   

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates also have a role in boosting energy in the elderly in their bodies. Choose carbohydrate-based foods, such as soft steamed potatoes, oats, rice, and bread. In processing it, you need to make sure that carbohydrate foods are soft in texture so that the elderly can easily chew and swallow food.

Vegetable fat

Fat is an important nutrient in supporting the elderly. Choose healthy fats from plants (vegetable), such as avocados, soy products (tofu and tempeh), and nuts ( almonds , soybeans, macadamia). Apart from including it in the daily menu, vegetable fats can be a snack food for the elderly. 

Fiber

Fiber keeps the digestive system in the elderly running smoothly, and reduces the risk of constipation. Provide a variety of vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, melons, watermelons, strawberries, carrots, and others. The vitamins and minerals in fiber also support the immune system in protecting the body from inflammation. Keep in mind, because fruits tend to be high in sugar, try to serve them with a ratio of 2/3 vegetables to 1/3 fruit each day so that the calories in the elderly are well preserved.

In addition to fiber consumption, always make sure the elderly have enough mineral water at least 1.5-2 liters per day . Consumption of fiber balanced with adequate mineral water can improve the digestive system and prevent the risk of constipation or difficult bowel movements. Don’t be bored to remind the elderly to drink lots of mineral water so that their bodies stay hydrated and their digestive system health is maintained.

2. Processed foods that are easy to swallow 

For the elderly who have difficulty chewing and swallowing food, provide really soft processed foods. You can prepare foods that are soft and chopped, so that the elderly can easily eat them. A proper serving of food is more or less textured like baby food.

In processing food, avoid using oil as much as possible. Healthy food is better processed by boiling and steaming, so that the food is soft and healthy. Meanwhile, if you want to serve a snack in the form of biscuits, also provide milk to soften the biscuits. Soft foods help the elderly to chew and swallow them.

To soften, you can use a blender or food processor to produce a smooth, pureed texture. Foods that can be mashed include meat, fish, vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, and fruits.

Don’t forget, when serving food, especially meat and fish, first remove any bones. Do this so that the elderly can enjoy the food well and prevent any thorns that may get stuck in the mouth or throat.

If he is still able to chew well, you can make food that is cut into small pieces. This makes chewing easier and prevents the risk of choking. That way, this will make it easier for them to eat so that the nutrition is well fulfilled.

3. Regular eating pattern

Make sure the elderly have a regular and regular eating schedule so that the nutrition in their bodies is maintained. Set a schedule for three large meals each day, starting in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Ensure that the elderly do not skip meals to reduce the risk of malnutrition. Especially breakfast, to gather energy, because the stomach was not filled with food all night.

For the elderly who tend to be full quickly and cannot eat large amounts of food, you can divide food into smaller portions with frequent frequency. For example, divide your meal schedule six to 10 times a day with a fixed schedule. Alternate the main meal with healthy snacks , such as fruit that is cut into small pieces so that he gets vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy fiber.

This sedentary diet can prevent the elderly from feeling too full. In addition, it prevents bloating, which is a common sign of ulcer problems. A regular diet also keeps the elderly’s energy awake at all times.

4. Avoid foods that trigger digestive problems

Previously mentioned, increasing age in old age is closely related to digestive conditions. Therefore, take care of the elderly by not providing foods that trigger digestive disorders, such as ulcers. The following are foods and drinks that the elderly should avoid.

  • Soft drink
  • Spicy food
  • High-fat foods, such as cheese, cakes, pies, pastries
  • Caffeine, such as tea and coffee
  • Sour and spicy foods or drinks

Apart from avoiding these foods, don’t forget to avoid foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats, such as fats from meat or foods that are fried in lots of oil. Although fat is important for the elderly’s body as energy storage, you can still choose healthy fat foods, such as roasted nuts and avocados. Do this so that the body gets nutrition and cholesterol remains stable.

The four points above are ways you can do to provide proper nutrition for the elderly. You can give milk that contains whey protein and has added important nutrients such as fiber, vitamins E, B6, B12. Its consumption can help meet the nutritional needs of the elderly and increase their physical strength for activities.

Even though the body’s ability is no longer as optimal as it was in youth, its nutrient absorption can be optimized through ways of serving healthy food for the elderly as above. However, it’s a good idea to consult a nutritionist or nutritionist about a nutrition plan for the elderly, adjusting to their health conditions.

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