How Do Nutritionists Address the Nutritional Needs of Elderly Clients?


    How Do Nutritionists Address the Nutritional Needs of Elderly Clients?

    Navigating the complex nutritional landscape for elderly clients requires expertise and personalization. We've gathered insights from six professionals, including a Licensed Nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian, to share their wisdom. From supporting digestion with enzymes and protein to personalizing breakfast for protein synthesis, discover how to address the specific nutritional needs of the aging population.

    • Support Digestion with Enzymes and Protein
    • Tailor Meals to Lifestyle and Abilities
    • Ensure High-Quality Protein and Hydration
    • Consider Sensory and Oral Health Needs
    • Integrate Hydration and Protein-Rich Breakfasts
    • Personalize Breakfast for Protein Synthesis

    Support Digestion with Enzymes and Protein

    Many elderly individuals struggle with low stomach acid, and due to that, they reduce their consumption of protein because it is difficult for them to digest. A lack of protein reduces zinc stores and depletes appetite, another common symptom for the elderly. A recommendation that can be very helpful is to support low stomach acid with apple cider vinegar or a digestive enzyme at every meal. Increase protein to at least 4 oz or 28 g/meal. Improving stomach acid and protein intake will improve the absorption of minerals and vitamins, as well as increase energy and appetite.

    Marcie Vaske
    Marcie VaskeLicensed Nutritionist, Oswald Digestive Clinic

    Tailor Meals to Lifestyle and Abilities

    In addressing the nutritional needs of my elderly clients, I adopt a highly personalized approach that considers their specific circumstances, including their ability to prepare meals and the number of people they are cooking for. Recognizing that elderly individuals often face unique challenges, such as reduced mobility or dexterity, I emphasize the practicality of meal preparation. For instance, for a client who is cooking solely for themselves, my recommendations might focus on simple, nutritious meals that can be easily prepared in small portions to minimize waste and ensure freshness. This tailored approach not only meets their nutritional requirements but also respects their lifestyle, making healthy eating both accessible and enjoyable.

    Danielle Gaffen
    Danielle GaffenRegistered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Eat Well Crohn's Colitis

    Ensure High-Quality Protein and Hydration

    The nutritional needs of elderly clients differ somewhat from other age groups. It's important to eat plenty of high-quality protein because older people tend to catabolize lean body mass (aka muscle) more quickly as they age. Whether one is a vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore is irrelevant as long as they get high-quality protein such as beans, tofu, fish, meat, poultry, yogurt, or eggs. It's also crucial that the elderly stay hydrated, as taste buds diminish and so does the desire for liquids, making it easy to become dehydrated. Remember to drink non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day, such as herbal tea and green juices. It's also important to limit alcohol and sugar, which deplete the body of nutrients and electrolytes. Loading up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as oatmeal, along with healthy fats like avocado and olives, will contribute to good health, energy, and disease prevention.

    Kim Ross, Ms, Rd, Cdn
    Kim Ross, Ms, Rd, CdnIntegrative Nutritionist, Kim Ross Nutrition

    Consider Sensory and Oral Health Needs

    Addressing the current state of health and any physiologic changes is the first step in supporting elderly clients and their daily nutritional requirements. If their overall health status is overlooked and more general nutritional advice is applied, there's a good chance the client can't completely follow the provided guidelines and ends up in an even worse state since they may feel overwhelmed by the lack of help and may develop a negative attitude towards any future nutritional support. As a holistic nutritionist, it's always my priority to address every client individually and cater to their special requirements and lifestyle needs, which are always different for every client.

    Among other things, it is important to focus on the client's sensory aspects and oral health, which may significantly change nutritional suggestions. It's no secret many elderly clients may struggle with their teeth, chewing, or taste and smell. All of these aspects are extremely important to consider, on top of the client's overall activity levels and potential health issues that need special consideration. A holistic perspective is the key to finding a nutrition plan that truly caters to each and every client, regardless of their health status.

    Regarding particular recommendations, I always advise elderly clients to focus on their fiber intake and decrease solid fats and added sugars. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and low-fat dairy products, together with increasing their intake of lean protein sources—this is the general nutritional route that I've found helpful for most elderly clients. Nuts, on the other hand, are a good example of the kind of food I'd only recommend to elderly clients who don't struggle with chewing or swallowing. Despite nuts packing great health benefits, especially for cognitive health, we can't just blindly recommend nuts to every elderly client—it may even come off as offensive if the client struggles with their teeth or chewing. That's why I stress the importance of a highly personalized approach that considers the special needs every client may have.

    Viktoria Krusenvald
    Viktoria KrusenvaldANWPB Board Certified Nutritional Consultant, Wellness Patron

    Integrate Hydration and Protein-Rich Breakfasts

    As a health and wellness coach, I take a personalized approach to assisting elderly clients, aiming to help them grasp their unique nutritional needs and enact lasting lifestyle changes. A crucial step in this process involves analyzing their daily habits through a 7-day food and lifestyle journal, enabling us to pinpoint areas for improvement and health optimization.

    Among elderly clients, common challenges often include dehydration and insufficient protein intake, particularly in the morning. These issues not only affect physical health but also impact cognitive function and overall vitality. To tackle these challenges, we focus on integrating two key habits: starting the day with 16 ounces of water before coffee and consuming 30 grams of protein with breakfast. This proactive approach not only fuels the body but also sustains energy levels throughout the day.

    I recommend a variety of nutrient-dense protein sources for breakfast, such as eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, turkey sausage, protein shakes, collagen-infused coffee, and scramble recipes with beans, quinoa, or edamame. By incorporating two to three different protein sources, clients can diversify their nutrient intake and optimize their health.

    Beginning the day with hydration and a protein-rich breakfast offers numerous benefits, including enhanced cognitive function, physical performance, and muscle protein synthesis for muscle repair and longevity. Through personalized coaching and targeted strategies like the 7-day food and lifestyle journal approach, we empower clients to make meaningful changes that enhance their quality of life and promote longevity.

    Katie Carpenter
    Katie CarpenterExecutive Health and Wellness Coach, Deliberate Directions

    Personalize Breakfast for Protein Synthesis

    Firstly, you need to approach each person on an individual basis. Like any client, an elderly client will have their own needs, preferences, and goals from working with you. However, generally, we know that many elderly clients aren't struggling with eating too much, as our appetite tends to decline as we age. Additionally, their independence and ability to prepare their own meals may be limited due to physical or cognitive decline. So, it's often essential to focus on three things:

    1) Ensuring adequate calorie intake, 2) Ensuring adequate protein intake as our ability to metabolize protein declines with age, and 3) Helping to make food preparation easier. Rather than going into detail on all three of these, I'll provide an example of how I've addressed these in the past.

    Firstly, most elderly clients aren't really interested in changing their diet dramatically. This is a generalization, but it holds true in my experience, particularly working with patients in the NHS. So, you have to meet them where they're at and see where you can make minor tweaks that could positively impact them. Something I've focused a lot on in the past is breakfast. This is primarily due to the fact that it's at the end of an overnight fast, and ensuring adequate protein intake to avoid continued protein breakdown throughout the day is critical. So, I'll ask them what their favorite breakfasts are and what they like to prepare. I then identify opportunities to add more protein (and calories if needed).

    For example, many people say they enjoy breakfast eggs, typically just eggs on toast. Great, but they might only be having a couple of eggs, which is unlikely to hit the required 20-40g of protein they'll need to boost protein synthesis in that meal. So, I'll ask them whether they'd consider adding more eggs to their daily dose of eggs on toast. They often agree after discussing the benefits. Another example is porridge, which is a staple in the UK. But typically very low in protein, even if milk is used. So, I'll recommend any of the following if they're up to it: - Using yogurt instead of milk (typically higher in protein), - Adding nuts, seeds, or peanut butter, - Considering the use of a protein powder if all else fails (sometimes an easy win, but depends on cost).

    Robbie Puddick Rnutr
    Robbie Puddick RnutrContent & SEO Lead - Registered Nutritionist, Second Nature Health