This is a pretty detailed story addressing nutrition for elderly people. As an RN, I'd been educated in nursing school about the aging process and what unique ailments the elderly population had. Nutrition for the elderly population was not part of the curriculum. Let me walk you through this so you can understand how nutrition fits in the aging process.
In hospital practice, I did not truly appreciate issues with the elderly because hospitals are acute care, not chronic care. We knew the longer an elderly patient was in the hospital, the more likely they would become confused, progressively more ill, develop complications, and often die. In total ignorance of elder care, I left my hospital position to work as an ADN (Assistant Director of Nursing) at a nursing home where a friend of mine had taken the Director job and was looking for good help. Within the first couple weeks, I'd sent several patients to the hospital ER because of that ignorance! The first patient had a hard, hot, swollen, reddened area on her right calf. In acute care, that is a blood clot. It's very dangerous because it can break free, go to the lungs, block air flow and cause death. In chronic care, as in this case, it can be a recurrence of phlebitis. The symptoms are identical (red, hot, swollen leg) but the causes are different. I did not regret it, because you never really know. It might have been a blood clot, but … other staff with more experience, and knowing the patient's history, would not have sent her.
Several body systems affect nutrition for elderly people. Let's start from the head and work our way down.
1. Memory Loss. It's not a normal part of aging . There are plenty of elderly folks that have no problem with memory. There's an abundant amount of information available to address memory loss. How is nutrition affected by memory? Yes, I wrote that right. Read it again, then, continue. We need to remember to buy food, store it properly, prepare it, and eat it! Any of those steps could be and are forgotten. I've watched people go to their cupboard for food, find nothing they like, or nothing at all, and then return to their chair to watch tv and not eat! Foods go bad and are eaten anyway – things taste differently as we age. Thought goes into preparing food, what if you forgot how to make a sandwich? What if you forgot if you took your medicine, or if you thought you ate, but really took your medicine?
2. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth , throat. Vision dims, hearing is diminished, smells are different, there may be swallowing difficulties … mouth pain, tooth pain, dry mouth, and poor fitting dentures. How many times is nutrition for elderly provided in a can? Have you looked at the ingredients in those? Being milk based causes mucous production and increases difficulty with swallowing. Going out to eat is out of the question if you have trouble swallowing. Choking in public? No way! How and what do you eat if your mouth hurts? What if your dentures are loose? Do you see how eating may lose it's appeal?
3. Lets get to the stomach next. As we age, everything slows. It takes longer for foods to digest. Many times, sweets are eaten first because taste buds change. What about a glass of lemonade or sweet tea? They sure will not let you add salt to the food, so sugar it is. Then there's less food eaten because the stomach is filling quicker than it's emptying. Of course, you could always rely on that nutritionally inadequate can again.
4. Moving the food through the rest of the system, taking the nutrients out and expelling the waste, is slowed too. There's a higher percentage of 'transverse impaction' in the elderly than any other population. That means the food moves out of the stomach, into the top portion of the intestine, then just sits there and hardens. If it becomes an obstruction, label it critical!
5. What about that bladder? When your joints hurt, you do not want to get up to go to the bathroom. So, you drink less water. Water nourishes the cells, carries nutrients in and wastes out. When the elderly do not drink, they become dehydrated and toxic! Round and round we go, back to memory, which is affected when we are toxic. The first sign of dehydration in the elderly can be hallucinations!
6. Other issues are heart palpitations (causing weakness and "I just feel bad"), respiratory trouble (if you can not breathe, it's hard to eat), bone & joint pain (it takes too much effort to get to the table ), and emotional changes (primarily depression ).
Believe it or not, there is hope (beyond the can). Nutrition for elderly people, because of advanced technology, is as simple as giving candy to a baby. That's an old cliché, but it still works! Reducing the size of nutrients so they go straight into the cells, bypassing digestion is the key. The simple solution? It's called cellular nutrition. Here are the benefits:
Memory is one of the very first things that improve with regular use. For the first bit of time, remind someone to take the nutrition. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and throat? No issue! Just put it in a glass of water to sip on. Hold it in your mouth or even spray it on your skin. The nutrition will get in there, it's cellular! Do not heat it up though; the heat will destroy the enzymes. Cellular nutrition does not need digestion, so the stomach is not an issue. Intestines will move better. Nutrition given to the cells of the body cause the body to eliminate wastes more efficiently. Both loose stools or constipation will benefit with balance! Yes, water is needed to get the nutrition into the cells, but just one glass a day will do that (even in divided amounts), so running to the bathroom is not a problem. Then, when a body responds to the nutrition and heals, drinking more water will not be such a bother. In the elderly, metabolism is slower and often activity is less, so not as much water is needed.
All body systems are dependent on balanced nutrition. Anyone that takes prescriptions should tell their doctor about starting on a supplement so they can monitor them. It's common for physicians to have to reduce and eventually eliminate many prescription medications once a balanced nutrition is achieved! If your doctor will not work with you , find one that will. After all, you pay them, right? Get your money's worth!