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HEALTH ARTICLES

Understanding Nutritional Deficiency in the Elderly

Max Lab

Jan 01, 1970

The body’s ability to absorb nutrition becomes weaker with age. This is the reason why nutritional deficiencies are a common issue among the elderly. For any caregiver, it is essential to understand what nutritional deficiencies are, the causes behind them, and ways to prevent them.

What is Nutritional Deficiency?

Nutritional deficiency refers to the lack of necessary vitamins and minerals in the diet, which signifies that the nourishment the body is receiving is inadequate. The efficiency of calcium, protein, iron, folates, various vitamins, dietary fibre, and other nutrients in their proper amounts being included in the diet cannot be second-guessed, as nutritional deficiency can lead to a number of serious health issues down the line. With lower caloric intakes, reduced physical activity, less appetite, and less protein intake, or due to physiological reasons like forgetfulness, or medication that reduces the body’s capabilities for absorbing nutrients, elderly people are more prone to suffering from nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to chronic issues like osteoporosis, heart diseases, etc. Other common issues that can be caused due to nutritional deficiency include:

  • Anaemia: Iron deficiency or anaemia means having a red blood count that is lower than normal for an elder. Anaemia can further lead to other health issues as well.
  • Cognitive Impairment: A deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause cognitive impairment as well as gastrointestinal problems. Common signs of cognitive impairment among the elderly include memory loss, confusion, delayed processing, and depression.
  • Low Bone Density: A vitamin D deficiency in the blood can result in lower bone density. This may occur due to a lack of exposure to sunlight as well. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause osteoporosis, in which the bones become brittle and can lead to frequent fractures.

Opting for a test for vitamin B12, vitamin D, and other nutritional deficiencies can help in the proper management of the condition in the elderly.

Common Causes of Nutritional Deficiencies among the Elderly

Many elderly people often suffer from some sort of pre-existing medical condition, which is also one of the most common causes of nutritional deficiency among the elderly. Apart from this, there are several other causes that may be behind nutritional deficiency, such as eating disorders, dehydration, sleep deprivation, etc.

Managing and Curing Nutritional Deficiency in Elderly People

Steps like reducing the amount of polyunsaturated fats in the diet, ensuring proper dietary fibre and protein intake, calcium supplementation, ample sources of folate, and potassium consumption can go a long way in helping manage and even treat nutritional deficiency in senior citizens. The diet for an elderly person must be planned with care and should include plenty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in essential nutrients. The most important nutrients that must be included in an elderly person’s meal plan include:

  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is required by the body for making red blood cells and DNA, and a deficiency of vitamin B12 has been associated with psychosis, depression, dementia, etc. Fortified cereals, meat, fish, eggs, and poultry are some of the best sources of vitamin B12.
  • Folic Acid: Folic acid is required for the metabolism of amino acids and the synthesis of DNA. The best sources of folate include green leafy vegetables, eggs, seafood, peas, beans, dairy, nuts, and fruits.
  • Vitamin D: A significant nutrient for bone density, vitamin D can be found in foods like cod liver oil, egg yolks, fatty fish, and milk.
  • Potassium: Helps in the proper functioning of the cells and in preventing kidney stones and high blood pressure. Bananas, dried fruits, potatoes, lentils, beans, spinach, and broccoli are some of the best sources of Potassium.
  • Fibre: Supports digestion and can be found in foods like beans, whole grains, nuts, potatoes (baked with their skin), berries, and brown rice.
  • Protein: Low protein intake can lead to osteoporosis and muscle loss. Best sources of protein include animal proteins and dairy products.
  • Calcium: While foods like dried beans, fortified juices, tofu, spinach, and dairy products are recommended for an elderly person’s calcium intake, if the body’s nutritional requirements cannot be met by oral intake, one may need to opt for calcium supplementation.

A test for vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, or other common nutritional deficiencies should be conducted to understand what nutrients the elderly is not getting enough of, so a proper diet chart can be prepared.

As nutritional deficiency can lead to several serious health issues and conditions in the elderly, it is essential to consult a doctor at the earliest to detect the issue and begin treatment of the same with a proper diet plan and medication, if required. It is important to look out for common signs of nutritional deficiency, like unexplained fatigue, brittle and dry hair, spoon- or ridge-shaped cuticles, issues like cracking or inflammation near the mouth, diarrhoea, appetite changes, irritability, etc. If any symptoms occur, a doctor should be consulted at the earliest.

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