An old man eats soup at a table.

As adults age, their nutritional requirements and eating habits change. Family members need to know what their loved one’s dietary needs are — especially when they’ve moved into a nursing home where they might not get the highest quality food and diet.

There are many factors families have to consider when they place their loved one in a nursing home. One of those is their diet.

Older individuals need more of certain nutrients to stay healthy. However, they also need to eat less food to maintain a healthy weight.

Because of these issues, it’s important for families to pay attention to what their loved one is eating. However,  if a loved one is in a nursing home – and these needs aren’t being met –  they could be at a higher risk of malnutrition. The first step is to know what nutrients older adults need.

Nutrient Requirements for Older Adults

As we age, our bodies’ nutrient requirements adjust, making certain nutrients more crucial than ever for aging bodies.

These nutrients help with bone mass, brain health, blood pressure, digestion, and other age-related maladies:

  • Calcium and Vitamin D: Calcium is needed to build and maintain healthy bones, while Vitamin D is required for our bodies to absorb the calcium.
  • Fiber: Fiber is important because it alleviates constipation and prevents inflammation along the colon wall.
  • Iron: Iron is needed to prevent anemia and supply the body with enough oxygen.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is used by every cell in a human’s body to create energy from food, relax muscles, and regulate the nervous system. It also lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These fatty acids are essential for heart health because they lower blood pressure and triglycerides (fat found in the bloodstream).
  • Potassium: Potassium lowers an individual’s risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
  • Protein: Protein helps people build muscle and muscle mass, and it may also slow the rate of muscle loss.
  • Vitamin B12: B12 helps out with brain health and the creation of red blood cells.

These nutrients can be found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats. However, because of their lower caloric needs, elderly individuals may need to take supplements to get all of the nutrients they need.

Calorie Intake for Older Adults

Older adults need fewer calories as they age. They generally don’t have as much muscle, and they often exercise and move around less than younger individuals. Because of that, if they were to eat the same amount of food as when they were younger, they may gain extra weight.

However, the calories they do intake must be more nutrient-dense. This is because older individuals need just as high or even higher levels of some nutrients, compared to younger people.

Many older adults living in nursing homes may start to neglect their dietary habits. As a result, they may need help sticking to their regular diet and avoiding foods with a lot of salt and sugar.

Some reasons for changes in dietary habits in older adults include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Feeling full faster
  • The cost of healthy food

Assessing Food Quality in Nursing Homes

Food quality in nursing homes is often one of the things residents complain about the most. It’s an essential aspect of overall quality of life and care in a nursing home. Because of that, family members may be concerned that the quality of food in the nursing home might not be high.

If you are concerned, you can ask your facility for more information about food quality in nursing homes. Some things families can watch for include freshness, foods that are low in sodium, and balanced meals.

Residents need to be provided with foods they enjoy. Otherwise, they may stop eating or not eat enough, putting them at risk of malnutrition.

It’s the nursing home’s responsibility to watch for signs of malnutrition and dehydration because these conditions can escalate and become very severe. If they do not, it can be a sign of abuse or neglect.

To learn more about nursing home neglect, contact the Nursing Home Abuse Center today.



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