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Common Nutrition Concerns for the Elderly: How Nutritional Needs Change as We Age

Are you finding yourself losing interest in food? Perhaps you’re noticing changes in your appetite or taste preferences. It’s natural to feel concerned about these changes and their impact on your health.   As a caregiver, you also may be concerned about your loved one’s declining nutritional intake. Balancing caregiving responsibilities while also ensuring proper nutrition […]

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Are you finding yourself losing interest in food? Perhaps you’re noticing changes in your appetite or taste preferences. It’s natural to feel concerned about these changes and their impact on your health.  

As a caregiver, you also may be concerned about your loved one’s declining nutritional intake. Balancing caregiving responsibilities while also ensuring proper nutrition for your elderly loved one can be overwhelming at times. 

On top of the usual concerns, health conditions can add to the complexity of managing dietary restrictions and medication interactions.

In this article, we’ll address the specific nutrition concerns for elderly people that arise and provide some practical tips to help seniors and caregivers navigate these challenges effectively. 

Table of Contents

What Are Some Nutritional Concerns for the Elderly?

As we age, our bodies undergo changes that impact our nutritional needs and eating habits. These nutritional changes can manifest in the following ways: 

  • Nutritional deficiencies: Older adults can be at an increased risk of certain nutrient deficiencies due to factors such as reduced overall food intake, impaired absorption, or interaction with certain medications. Some common deficiencies include calcium, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.  
  • Loss of appetite and taste changes: Many elderly individuals experience a decrease in appetite and a change in taste perception, which can be attributed to physiological, psychosocial, and pharmacological factors accompanying the aging process. 
  • Swallowing problems: While swallowing problems can occur with many health conditions, even normal age-related swallowing changes can result in malnutrition, dehydration, or aspiration pneumonia in older individuals. 
  • Loss of muscle mass: Muscle mass decreases with age, which can result in a person’s ability to perform daily activities and maintain independence. Adequate protein intake and regular strength training can help preserve muscle mass and function.
  • Changes in activity level: Whether due to mobility limitations, health conditions, or simply a decrease in energy levels, a reduction in activity level is common for elderly people, which can impact metabolism and caloric requirements. This means adjusting serving size to prevent unwanted weight loss or gain. 

Of course, different diagnoses can also impact nutritional needs, such as diabetes, dementia, etc. It’s always important to speak to a medical provider to discuss specific nutritional concerns that may accompany a diagnosis. 

Nutrition Concerns for Elderly Individuals: What To Prioritize With Age

Eat From the Five Food Groups

Do you remember the old food pyramid? The US Department of Agriculture updated its recommendation and gave it a makeover. The MyPlate method suggests a more intuitive approach to thinking about nutrition. 

Think of your plate divided into sections. Your plate should resemble approximately: 

  • 40% vegetables
  • 10% fruits
  • 30% grains 
  • 20% protein

Then think of dairy as a small cup off to the side of your plate. 

With age comes wisdom, but it also comes with a greater need for nutrition. So as you age, make sure you or your loved ones are eating from the major food groups. 

Limit Saturated Fats

Desserts and fried foods are tempting. But as we go through life and approach the golden years, we become increasingly aware that while these delights may be appealing, they might not be the wisest choice for our health. 

Here are some suggestions to limit saturated fats:

  • Opt for monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados, and nuts. 
  • Embrace reduced-fat options in yogurt, cheese, or dairy products without sacrificing flavor.
  • Choose nut butter as a delicious alternative. Nut butters are not only monounsaturated fats but are also packed with great nutrients.

Monitor Sodium Intake

Sodium is a sneaky culprit lurking in many of our favorite foods. High blood pressure is a common concern as we age, and excessive sodium intake can quickly exacerbate this issue.

While too much sodium can lead to hypertension and complications like heart disease, too little sodium can be equally problematic. Hyponatremia is a disorder characterized by low sodium levels and is common among older individuals. 

It’s essential to carefully monitor sodium levels. By opting for fresh foods and avoiding processed foods high in sodium, seniors can stay on top of their sodium levels.

Minimize Added Sugar

While sugar is tempting, indulging in excess sugar can have serious consequences for our health. High sugar intake is connected to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and obesity.

You can opt for natural sources of sweetness in fruits or small amounts of honey or maple syrup. 

Minimize Alcohol

Alcohol can wreak havoc on our bodies in several ways and is associated with issues such as high blood pressure, high triglycerides, insulin resistance, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and even certain cancers. 

Alcohol can also impact our body’s ability to burn fat which can contribute to weight gain.

So while raising a glass in celebration can be enjoyable, seniors need to prioritize their health by minimizing alcohol intake. 

Eat More Fiber

While discussing constipation may not be the most glamorous topic, the truth is that it becomes more common as we age. Several factors contribute to constipation as we age including:

  • Decreased activity level
  • Other medical conditions
  • Medications
  • Diet changes

To combat these changes and keep our digestion system running smoothly, you should increase your fiber intake. Consider adding these fiber-rich foods into your or your loved one’s diet:

  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains

Add More Fish

Not only is fish an excellent source of protein, but it also offers other advantages for combating common issues in the elderly.

Research has shown that fish consumption is associated with better cognitive performance in the elderly. 

Fish consumption has also been correlated with a reduced risk of serious health conditions, including stroke, dementia, heart disease, and macular degeneration. 

Remember Vitamins and Minerals

Nutrient deficiencies can be a common concern with many seniors. While prioritizing a balanced diet from the five food groups can certainly help address these deficiencies, sometimes additional support is needed.

Supplemental vitamins and minerals serve as a valuable source in filling these nutritional gaps that may be lacking in your diet. Consult with your doctor to determine the most appropriate supplements. 

Drink Plenty of Water

Staying hydrated becomes even more important as we get older. Unfortunately, dehydration is a common challenge among the elderly, presenting serious health risks.

Several factors contribute to older individuals being at risk for dehydration including:

  • Forgetting to drink
  • Blunted thirst sensation
  • Underlying medical conditions

While water is the best option, you can explore alternatives that help with hydration if you’re struggling:

  • Reduced-fat milk
  • Tea and coffee 
  • Mineral and soda water
  • Add fruit or cucumbers to your water to enhance flavor

3 Tips for Navigating Nutritional Concerns for Elderly Individuals

#1: Promote a Healthy Lifestyle

Eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to a healthy lifestyle in your golden years. Movement is equally important — in any form that is both safe and enjoyable for you.

You also need to consider calorie expenditure as well. Calories consumed should align with how many calories you expend unless you’re intentionally trying to lose or gain weight. 

#2: Plan Ahead

When it comes to nutrition concerns for elderly people, planning is always key. You should consider how much you or your loved one can handle, taking into account any physical limitations or health conditions. 

To maintain a healthy diet, here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Meal planning: Create a weekly meal plan that includes nutritious foods tailored to dietary needs and preferences. By writing it down, it can help you stay on track and make sure meals aren’t skipped.
  • Grocery shopping: Seek assistance from family members, friends, or others in your community to help with grocery shopping.
  • Cooking: Enlist support for meal prep, whether it’s sharing cooking responsibilities or arranging for meal delivery services. 

For more tips on caring for elderly family members at home, check out this guide

#3: Be Mindful of Your Bones

As we age, our bones undergo changes that make us more prone to fractures and breaks. Osteoporosis or bone loss is a serious concern.

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to support bone health and reduce the risk of bone fractures. 

Ensure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D to combat bone loss. Protein is also essential for building, repairing, and maintaining healthy bones. Meat, fish, eggs, seafood, and dairy are all excellent choices that support healthy bones.

You also should consider the impact of bone density on your dental health. Opt for foods that won’t cause breaks in your teeth. 

But bone health isn’t just about what you eat — it’s also important to create a safe environment to limit fall injuries. Simple measures like removing tripping hazards and ensuring your room is well-lit at night can go a long way. 

Senior Services of America: Addressing All Nutrition Concerns for the Elderly in Our Communities

As you get older, you likely realize that maintaining your health requires a bit more attention to detail — especially when it comes to nutrition. 

Senior Services of America communities understand the importance of nourishing both the body and the soul, which is why we’re dedicated to ensuring that each resident’s nutritional needs are met with care, dignity, and respect.

Our team of dedicated professionals meticulously oversee each resident’s meals, prioritizing high-quality, nutritious meals and allowing for customization to accommodate individual preferences and medical requirements. A dietician signs off on each menu, ensuring all residents receive the nutrients they need in a safe and tailored manner.

We offer a range of senior living options across the Pacific Northwest, including:

  • Assisted living
  • Memory care
  • Independent living
  • Respite care

Whether you’re seeking care options for a family member or exploring assisted living for yourself, our team is here to guide you through every step of the journey.


**The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.**