The word senior has replaced the word elderly in recent times. The population of seniors has increased in almost all developed countries. Even in a developing country like India their number is increasing remarkably, thanks to improvement in medical services. Energy needs and nutritional requirements continue to change, as we grow older. The goal of nutritional care should be to help the aged to achieve a healthy, useful and happy life.
A nutritious diet should be provided to seniors for maintaining their health and also for improving resistance to illness.
When does old age begin?
When can we say that one has become a senior citizen? A person above 60 years is considered as a senior citizen. Retired persons are also termed as elderly. But the fact is that every one is moving from his youth to the next stage in life. In every person regeneration and degeneration of tissues occurs. At a young age regeneration is more than degeneration, whereas in old age the degeneration is more than regeneration. This ageing process effects the physiological, psychological and immunological functions of the body.
How can we take care of health during the senior stage?
One should mentally prepare himself and be aware that his body requires a nutritive diet to withstand the onslaught of old age. Let us examine what happens to the body and its tissues during this state. The wear and tear will have its own effects on internal organs, muscles and, bones. The physiological changes of ageing will modify their nutritional needs. Senior citizens must take a balanced diet that will provide adequate nutrient to look after his specific requirement. The diet must contain essential nutrients to prevent diseases and to check early damage to the tissues. Regular moderate exercise is very essential to maintain healthy life of a senior.
The nutrition requirement
It is well known that susceptibility to diseases and weakness - both physical and psychological will be more during this period. The diseases may be infective like bacterial, viral or fungal infections, non-infective like hypertension or malignancy, functional like constipation or degenerative like oseto arthritis.
Energy need reduces due to the decrease in physical activity and reduced basal metabolic rate. The calories should be adequate for a sedentary life and to be restricted if there is any tendency to be obese. Energy requirement increases during diseases and recovery.
Protein requirement to be maintained as 1 gm/kg body weight.
But due to decreased appetite and poor digestive capacity seniors are likely to forgo protein rich foods. As age advances many seniors suffer from dental problem, which result in difficulty to chew. Protein rich foods such as eggs, minced meat, fish, curd, paneer, custard and softly cooked dhals can be included in the diet depending upon the health of the individual. Care should be taken to follow a specified diet during illness for example diabetes, cardiovascular, hypertension, atrophic gastritis and renal disorders
Fats are difficult to digest with advancing age. So about 40-50 gm of fat daily is only advised. It should be preferably unsaturated fats like safflower, sunflower oil, olive or corn oil.
Calcium needs are increased during this stage. Osteoporosis is common in old age. It can be due to the diminished intake and absorption of calcium. Women over 50 years of age, who are confined indoors and with deficient intake of vitamin D can lead to senile osteoporosis. Milk, fish, Amaranth, fenugreek, drumstick leaves, tapioca and ragi consumption can ensure an adequate supply of calcium. Exposure to sunlight is a very good source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is necessary for proper calcium absorption.
Iron requirement can be same as in an adult, which is 25 -30 mg.
If anaemia is present 10 mg more of iron can be given. Iron deficiency effects both cellular and humoral immunity. Iron deficiency may be due to poor intake, excessive loss like gastrointestinal bleeding, worm infestation, diseases such as hypothyroidism or caused by infections of the urinary tract. Good sources of dietary iron are jaggery, dried dates, amaranth, fenugreek, bajra, pulses, gingelly seeds, raisins, meat and liver. Iron absorption is increased if seniors consume the above food items with food containing vitamin C like citrus fruits.
Vitamins also play an important role in the immunity of seniors. Vitamin B complex groups are important for carbohydrate and protein metabolism. They are also essential for the maintenance of normal appetite and digestion. Other vitamins are also essential for the proper functioning of the body.
Fluid - An adequate fluid intake is important.
The intake will vary from 1500 ml or more depending upon the season, physical activity or disease states. Sufficient fluid will help the kidney to function properly and to eliminate the waste. Water also helps in combating constipation. They should drink sufficient water especially during the day. Other than water they should have liquid like buttermilk, fruit juices, soups at regular intervals even if they are not thirsty.
Fibre - Constipation is one of the major problems of seniors. This can be due to decreased elasticity of digestive tract to affect the peristalsis or due to reduced consumption of food or inadequate fluid intake. Rough fibres and bran are not advised for the aged, but tender vegetables and fruits are more appropriate. Senile intestinal covering does not tolerate roughage from bran and mature vegetables.