vitamins and nutrients conceptAs we age, lean body mass and metabolic rate decrease. In turn, the body no longer effectively absorbs certain minerals and vitamins. As elderly adults can have smaller appetites and a lower caloric requirement, they may need more nutrients than before.

Their lifestyle habits also differ, which can affect what foods are consumed. As a result of less physical activity and caloric intake, fewer essential vitamins and minerals get absorbed, leading to the development of certain dietary deficiencies.

As time goes on, the risk of developing osteoporosis, heart disease and other chronic diseases increases.

How Dietary Deficiencies Occur in Older Adults

Additional factors can alter the amount of nutrients the elderly receive:

  • Forgetfulness and growing cognitive impairments.
  • A reduced or fixed income, which limits how much can be spent on food.
  • Medication side effects that may alter how well the body absorbs certain nutrients.
  • Medication interactions with certain vitamins and minerals.
  • Gastrointestinal issues, whether from a GI tract infection or surgical procedure.
  • Smoking tobacco and over-consumption of alcohol.
  • Hormonal and neurotransmitter changes that affect how hunger and fullness are experienced.

Common Nutritional Deficiencies

Older adults are more likely than younger people to experience the following deficiencies:

  • Calcium: This mineral contributes to bone density and strength. Calcium deficiency may impact mobility and exacerbate fall-related injuries.
  • Vitamin D: Works in conjunction with calcium to improve bone density.
  • Magnesium: Influences certain body processes, including blood pressure regulation.
  • Vitamin C: Contains antioxidants, affects wound healing and protein absorption.
  • Vitamin B6: Helps with protein absorption and can influence cognitive functioning.
  • Vitamin E: Also known for its antioxidants, Vitamin E is key for the immune system.
  • Vitamin B12: Essential for creating new blood cells and nervous system functionality.
  • Folate: Also called Vitamin B9, folate assists in the production of red and white blood cells. A deficiency may contribute to the diagnosis of anemia in older adults.
  • Potassium: Contributes to stronger and healthier bones, helps to reduce blood pressure and lessens the risk of kidney stones.
  • Fiber: Affects how well food moves through the digestive system and helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Omega 3: Has been known to reduce the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration and may improve cognitive health.

Effects of Dietary Deficiency on Older Adults

Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies can take months or years to develop. The same goes for any subsequent conditions, which may go back to childhood but manifest in one’s older years. Common nutrition-related conditions include:

  • Anemia: Hospitalized seniors are often diagnosed with this deficiency, which can occur together with inflammation, chronic diseases and protein-absorption issues.
  • Cognitive Impairment: A Vitamin B12 deficiency manifests as cognitive impairment, often in concurrence with gastrointestinal issues related to absorption and infection, anemia and folic acid deficiency. Older adults may display signs of memory loss, confusion, delayed processing and depression.
  • Vitamin D Deficiency: Seniors with lower levels of Vitamin D in their blood, often due to decreased sunlight exposure, tend to have lower bone density. This condition can lead to more frequent fractures and puts seniors at risk for osteomalacia or osteoporosis.

To address these issues, doctors often recommend less saturated fats and sodium in favor of more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and sources of fiber. Patients may also be steered toward certain vitamins and supplements to target particular nutrients.
At West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center, we factor in the critical role diet and nutrients can play in recovery and overall health. To learn more about our services and approach, contact us today.