Ageing: From the Womb to the Tomb

GERIATRIC NUTRITION

October: Month of the Elderly under the theme, “Longevity: Shaping the Future”

Ageing is a normal process. It begins at conception and ends at death, but may progress at different rates, depending on some important factors such as nutrition. Since good nutrition and good health go hand in hand, the results of a defective or well nourished diet will appear sooner or later.

Food plays a critical role in the care and preservation of health in ageing persons. Good nutrition can delay the onset of chronic degenerative diseases, such as chronic heart disease, atherosclerosis, cerebral haemorrhage, kidney disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteomalacia and osteoporosis.

An optimal nutritional lifestyle should be practiced from early to prepare for a healthy senior citizen. The time to start practicing good food habits to defer the ageing processes is in one’s youth, at the latest. Indeed, a woman’s eating habits during pregnancy may influence the subsequent ageing process in her children.

The needs of ageing people do not differ significantly from those of young adults. However, the chief changes observed are in: the speed and completeness of digestion and absorption, glucose tolerance, utilisation of protein, fat, calcium and thiamine and decreased appetite.

These changes should be considered as a chain reaction: lowered metabolism and decreased activity will require decrease caloric need. In some of the bones, especially in women, density decreases with age. Poor food habits, common among the aged, tend to speed up these changes. At this stage, oversimplification of the diet, with excess calorie intake from empty calories such as sugar, white flour and fats, and with too little intake of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and cheese, fruits and vegetables tends to be widely practiced. Such practices result in malnutrition, overweight/obesity and chronic diseases, etc.

In addition, the elderly face nutritional challenges as a result of physical, emotional, financial and social changes such as loss of teeth, loss of appetite, poor digestion and constipation, lack of money and loneliness. Persons who are charged with the responsibility to care for such ones should ensure that foods are cut into small pieces, gravy added to dry foods, prepare foods in attractive ways, nutritious and tasty, serve small meals often, ensure that surroundings are pleasant for eating, shop wisely to stretch the dollar, assist them with a kitchen garden for exercise and a sense of fulfilment, spend time with them especially at meal time and chat with them.

Grenada Food and Nutrition Council

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