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How care homes can tackle age-related nutritional changes and elderly dietary needs

The older adult population is the fastest growing age demographic and is expected to increase by 20 per cent by 2050. Life expectancy is on the rise too. While this is a wonderful achievement of modern medicine, it does present its challenges for those in the health and social care sector. A prime example of this is meeting the increasingly complex nutritional needs of older adults.

As a care home it is your job to meet the dietary needs of this growing demographic, and apetito are here to help. In this guide we’ll give you some tips on tackling some of the most taxing age-related dietary changes.

Improving nutrition to positively influence the lifestyle of elderly residents

There are many lifestyle factors that can contribute to healthy ageing. Eating a healthy, balanced diet plays a crucial role in promoting good health and ensuring our daily nutritional targets are met.

This is imperative in the ageing population as they’re more susceptible to nutritional deficiencies and are at greater risk of poor absorption of essential vitamins and nutrients. A balanced diet can play a protective role in some age-related conditions such as dental health, and bone and joint health.

Why are the nutritional needs of older adults different?

Our bodies change a lot as we get older. As a result, care homes and their staff need to understand why and provide the nutrition to meet residents’ changing needs. There are lots of aspects which change over time, but the following changes are most important to keep in mind as a carer and care home.

Your metabolism slows down

One of the main physical changes that occurs with age is the change in body composition and metabolism. Physical inactivity can cause muscle fibres to get weaker and accelerate bone loss. As a result, a large proportion of older people in care suffer from physical ailments such as osteoporosis.

Your ability to taste decreases as you get older

Our ability to taste also declines as we get older. The process of taste bud regeneration and saliva production slows down with age, consequently impacting one’s enjoyment of meal times. Certain medications can also impact taste. Unfortunately, this can lead to a reduced appetite and the inability to meet daily nutritional targets.

Decreased appetite

A troubling concern for the elderly is that as you age your appetite decreases. If this isn’t addressed, older adults can be at risk of unintended weight loss and nutritional deficiencies.

This may be a result of a hormonal change, or simply a change in lifestyle. There is evidence that older adults have lower levels of hunger hormones and higher levels of fullness hormones. This results in getting hungry less often and feeling fuller much more quickly. 

Consequently, this means that it is a great deal harder to make sure the elderly are getting enough of what is good for them. 

How care homes can provide great nutrition for the elderly

Thankfully, there are a number of ways care homes can ensure they meet the age-related nutritional changes in your elderly residents.

1. Ensuring meals include Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, dried fruit and yoghurt can help reduce this risk. Vitamin D also plays a vital role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth as it helps the body absorb calcium. Although our bodies create vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin, exposure to the sun can be very limited in care homes.

It’s no surprise then that a vitamin D deficiency is one of the main deficiencies found in the older adult population. To combat this vitamin D deficiency, it’s recommended that older adults increase their consumption of oily fish, red meat, fortified breakfast cereals and fortified yoghurts. This can help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Additionally, the Department of Health recommends that individuals with limited exposure to sunlight take daily vitamin D supplements during the winter months.

2. Make high flavour dishes that are visually appealing

A visually appealing meal, packed with flavour

It is suggested that individuals seek more flavoursome options containing aromatic ingredients such as garlic, onions, lemon, lime, mustard and a variety of spices to enhance taste perception. Garnishes can play a significant role in the visual appeal and perception of a meal.

It is therefore essential that plate presentation training is provided to care home staff to further stimulate the appetite of residents. Appearance, texture, temperature and dining settings have become all the more important in encouraging care home residents to eat more regularly.

3. Provide a variety of meal options

Two older gentlemen take their pick of food

Providing a variety of meals and snacks in care homes can help overcome some of these challenges. For example, care homes can hold regular tasting sessions to showcase the variety of options available. Residents in care typically eat a select range of foods which can lack diversity. By offering frequent tasting sessions, residents have the opportunity to try new meals and expand their dietary profile, whilst providing feedback on their preferences for future menu planning.

It is recommended that care homes develop four-week menu cycles rather than two-week menu cycles to prevent menu fatigue. Care homes can also develop themed menus within these menu cycles for specific occasions such as Easter. This can help engage residents during meal times, which can contribute to a better dining experience.

4. Include foods with fibre, oily fish and plenty of fruit and veg

The National Diet & Nutrition Survey results showed that fibre, oily fish and fruit and vegetable intakes were all below the recommended intakes in older adults. Additionally, some populations had low intakes of protein, vitamins, in particular vitamin B12, and minerals – all of which can significantly impact an individual’s overall health.

Dietary needs change with age. As physical activity lessens, energy requirements also decrease. However, if insufficient levels of food are consumed, this can consequently increase an individual’s risk of nutritional deficiencies.

Start tackling nutritional change in your care home

Although the ageing process can affect people differently, a healthy and varied diet, combined with physical activity is encouraged to help minimise health problems, accelerate recovery and improve an individual’s quality of life.

With over 200 delicious, nutritionally-balanced soups, mains, sides and desserts, our range gives you more than just quality food: it gives you and your residents choice. Plus, with help from our in-house Chefs and Dietitians, our care homes meal service provides nutritional guidance and advice to help you address all the dietary needs of your residents.

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About apetito

We are a leading provider of nutritious and award-winning meals, with a strong reputation in the care home and healthcare sectors.

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