Elderly people often lack appetite. Some are also difficult to chew and swallow. As you grow older, your body needs certain nutrients. Experts advise on what matters.
Vegetables and fruits, more fish than meat, plus nuts: experts advise older people to eat a balanced Mediterranean diet. Cooking here is mainly done with olive oil. So, a healthy diet in old age is not much different from that of young people. With one crucial difference: “If the elderly move less, i.e. use less energy, they need fewer calories, but still the same amount of micronutrients,” says Professor Rainer Wirth, president of the German Geriatrics Society (DGG).
In concrete terms, this means: “He has to eat less in terms of quantity, but the food actually has to be of higher quality in terms of micronutrient density, because the need there hasn’t changed,” explains Wirth, who is also the clinic’s director of geriatric medicine and of early rehabilitation in Marienhospitalnaya Herni.
It is impossible to say generally when the calorie requirement will decrease. “It depends more on physical activity than actual age,” Wirth says. The differences in individual cases are huge. “There are people who are very active and exercise well into their eighties, and others who are very lazy in their seventies or are chronically ill and can no longer move as much,” says Wirth, deputy spokesperson for the DGG’s Nutrition Task Force. and metabolism.
Elderly people who are bedridden for longer periods of illness may lose a significant amount of weight. It’s difficult because they don’t pack on the pounds as quickly as younger people. “If an eighty-year-old guy is in the hospital with a fractured femur and loses five pounds, he won’t be able to regain it in a month,” Wirth warns.
When the next phase of the disease comes, several kilograms are lost again. Ten to fifteen kilograms of body weight can disappear in a few years. “It’s never just losing fat, it’s losing muscle,” explains Wirth.
Then a vicious cycle often begins: if the muscles recede due to age, muscle loss increases again due to poor nutrition. This, in turn, impairs the mobility of the elderly. When energy and protein supply are lacking, the immune system often suffers and wound healing is impaired.
In particular, the elderly need protein for muscle building. Then the protein requirement still increases. “The stimulus from when muscles are built changes with age,” Wirth says. Building muscle requires more exercise and protein intake.
The main sources of protein are animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as legumes – they go well in salads or as a spread on bread. Calcium contained in dairy products is also important for bones. Thus, dairy products and legumes should be integrated into the daily diet.
If there is not enough protein in the diet or if the elderly have lost weight, Professor Wirth recommends special products, for example, so-called protein bread. “It actually goes into the body as extra protein.” You can also buy protein yogurts or cheeses from the supermarket. On the other hand, a balanced diet should be prescribed by a doctor.
The desire to eat is important. The problem with old people is often a lack of appetite. In addition, there may be a prosthesis, which makes it difficult to enjoy. “If a person gets something that matches his preferences, he eats more,” says Professor Wirth. Seniors should eat what they like and eat a variety.
In addition, “eating in the company increases the consumption of calories.” This also applies to eating in a pleasant, quiet atmosphere. Calorie counting is no longer popular, it can be thicker milk.
The elderly should not and should not go without fruits, vegetables and whole grains if they have difficulty chewing or swallowing, says Therese Stachelscheid of the German Nutrition Society (DGE). Vegetables can be steamed, topped with soup, and creamy vegetable soup can be made with a hand blender, the nutritionist advises.
“For example, if you’ve always loved muesli for breakfast, now you can mix soft oatmeal or melted cereal with yogurt or milk and fruit puree,” explains the ecotrophologist of the higher nutrition department.
Vegetables and fruits are best included in every meal. It can also be frozen food. If possible, try to eat unripe vegetables and unsweetened fruits.
Ready meals are easy to prepare, but usually not very nutritious. Instead, they often have too much sugar, salt and unhealthy fat. But you can upgrade them with fresh vegetables.
There are quality differences in food delivery. It is worth reading carefully: for example, consumer centers offer a checklist for menu services.
Drinking alcohol is also part of the diet. An adult should consume about 1,300 milliliters per day, preferably 1,500. “This corresponds to two-thirds of the fluid requirement, one-third is usually taken with food,” says Professor Wirth.
Elderly people often avoid drinking heavily to avoid having to go to the bathroom on the go or at night. But these amounts are vital. You have to integrate them into your day. “In the morning, prepare the recommended amount of water for the day, for example, two 0.75-liter bottles,” advises the DGE specialist.
Rituals help: a drink is part of every meal. The cup should always be ready to hand and refilled again and again. “Put reminders around the house and take something to drink with you when you go,” she adds.
Water is the first choice. It’s easy to spice it up: “For example, add slices of lemon or cucumber or fresh herbs like mint or lemon balm to the water,” says Stachelscheid. Unsweetened herbal or fruit teas and splashed juices – with a quarter juice content – provide variety.
In case of violations of stores of medical supplies, ready-to-drink means. “Cups with recessed noses help with stiff necks or lascivious disorders, for example,” Stechelscheid says. “And sometimes will make a mug with handles on the side.”
Last but not least, mood is also important when it comes to fluid intake. “Toasts, songs, a toast or a demonstration can encourage older people to drink something,” the expert encourages relatives and carers, especially those with dementia.