Nutrition and hydration are always important. However, an elderly person may develop clinical dehydration and malnutrition due to a variety of reasons.
How do we make sure elderly loved ones stay hydrated and eat well? There are several factors to keep in mind.
Why is good hydration and nutrition important for the elderly?
- Lowers the risk of developing chronic diseases – Enough nutrients and fluid intake each day can help fight off illnesses, whether short-term or chronic.
- Balances blood sugar
- Keeps muscles and organs healthy
- Boosts brain health – Studies have shown that those who drink more water can help boost their cognitive skills. Water keeps the mind clear.
- Helps with constipation
What can affect nutrition and hydration?
- Cognitive impairment/confusion – Studies show that patients with dementia are more likely to be dehydrated and underweight. Because of a decreased appetite, nutrition and hydration may be detrimentally affected.
- Impaired motor function – Older people may experience symptoms and signs of dehydration and weight loss when they experience difficulties in feeding and fluid intake.
- Diarrhea and vomiting
What are the nutritional needs of the elderly?
Proper food and water intake should go hand-in-hand when promoting good nutrition.
- Protein – According to the Australian Government Ministry of Health, the minimum amount of protein that lets older people maintain their lean mass is 81 grams of protein per day for men and 64 grams for women aged 70 and above.
- Calcium – Poor calcium intake causes an increased risk of osteoporosis for older hospital residents. This disease may progress to more grave complications.
- Vitamin D – Low Vitamin D levels in older people increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, metabolic disorders, poor cognitive functions, and cancers.
- Iron – Anemia is a common problem for older people, and they can combat this by consuming food rich in iron to allow transportation of inhaled oxygen to tissues.
- Vitamin A – Seniors can source their Vitamin A from beef liver, green leafy vegetables, squash, carrots, and eggs.
- Vitamin B12/cobalamin – Vitamin B12 deficiency can be prevented by eating food rich in Vitamin B12, such as eggs, meat, poultry, and fish.
- Folic acid – The lack of folic acid may cause diarrhea and anemia. Seniors are recommended to include fruits, green leafy vegetables, meat, poultry, and nuts and beans in their diet.
How do you promote hydration and nutrition?
There are several practical ways help an elderly person stay nourished and hydrated. Of course, seek medical advice from your doctor or gerontologist. These professionals will provide expert support, dietary advice, or a clinical assessment, and identify any necessary interventions.
Here are everyday tips to promote proper eating and drinking.
- Avoid empty calories, such as chips, candy, and baked goods, alcohol and soda.
- Replace these with tasty, healthy alternatives.
- Prepare alternative drinks or fluids to water to reach the recommended daily fluid intake.
- Set reminders as to when the person eats and drinks so it becomes habitual for them.
- Put a 2L jug of water on the kitchen bench for the person to finish each day.
- Organise social eating dates, where meals become an enjoyable time with friends.
Whether your elderly loved one lives at home or in aged care, check up on their food and hydration habits. Encourage them to eat more nutritious food and drink enough water. This is a foundation to quality of life.