Older adults* have nutritional needs that differ from people in other stages of life. Canada addresses older adults’ needs in their Dietary Guideleines:
Under Section 4: Implementation of Dietary Guidelines:
Older adults may be at risk of poor dietary intake, depending on whether they were exposed to positive or negative influences on their health over time. Older adults can be affected by socio-economic conditions, such as lower income, which may limit their ability to travel, purchase and transport nutritious foods. Changes in functional ability can also influence the food choices and eating behaviour of adults in later life. Some older adults face mobility or dexterity issues that can cause them to increasingly rely on others for food shopping and meal preparation. They may face social isolation with changes in family and social networks and loss of loved ones over the years. Social isolation can lead to depression and a lack of motivation to prepare and consume nutritious meals. While women are more likely to lose a spouse, widowers may have fewer food skills and be less able to prepare nutritious meals for themselves. Older adults’ food intake can also be affected by physiological changes, such as poor oral health, diminished appetite, sensory changes, altered digestive processes, chronic health issues, and the effects of medication.
That was one excellent paragraph. It shows care. Also this about dehydration:
Those most at risk of becoming dehydrated are young children and older adults.
I looked at our Dietary Guidelines here in the US:
I did a search on the terms: social isolation, oral health, appetite, food shopping, mobility, food skills, sarcopenia, malnutrition, dementia, and dehydration. I saw nothing. Nothing. These are serious issues that impact older adults’ nutritional status. There isn’t even a section devoted to older adults. When they do mention them, it’s things like:
Among older adults who are obese, particularly those with CVD risk factors, intentional weight loss can be beneficial.
While it’s true that obesity is a health risk, at any age, it’s also true, especially for older adults, that unintentional weight loss, underweight, and malnourishment are also health risks … for reasons stated in Canada’s Guidelines above. Our Guidelines don’t address them.
Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.
What does that even mean?
Here is some advice on food safety:
Women who are pregnant, infants and young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems should only eat foods containing seafood, meat, poultry, or eggs that have been cooked to recommended safe minimum internal temperatures. They also should take special precautions not to consume unpasteurized (raw) juice or milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk, like some soft cheeses (e.g., Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert cheeses, blue-veined cheeses, and Panela). They should reheat deli and luncheon meats and hot dogs to steaming hot to kill Listeria.
So, older adults should not eat Feta. Or Brie. Or Camembert. Or blue cheese. And they should heat their deli and luncheon meats to steaming hot. That’s right. Older adults are suffering and dying from malnutrition and dehydration but we tell them they should be boiling their bologna.
When guidelines fail to address the unique nutritional needs of older adults, in a document written specifically to address nutritional needs of Americans, it reflects ageism. Institutionalized ageism.
I shouldn’t have done this exercise. It only reinforces my cynicism about our government.
* The term “older adults” has emerged as the term of choice to describe people in later stages of life. It is preferred to terms such as seniors, elders or the elderly, the aged, and older people. It is the term I have begun to see in official documents.