Adult Health Concerns – Chronic Nutrition Related Conditions
There are a number of adult health concerns that older adults as well as their caregivers must pay attention to since these conditions can cause interference with the ability of the older adult to take in proper nutrition. Some of these acute or chronic nutrition related conditions may require specific dietary changes for the older adult.
Some of these conditions include: Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia related to aging, arthritis, bladder and bowel regulation issue, dental health issues, depression, drug/drug interactions and food/drug interactions, osteoporosis, and vision problems.
Adult Health Concerns - Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease which eventually claims the older adult’s ability to obtain, prepare, and consume optimum nutrition. Some of the causes of this devastating illness are genetics, age, head trauma, and possible exposure to environmental toxins. The disease generally appears after the age of 70, but if an individual is genetically predisposed it can strike at an earlier age.
During the beginning stage of the disease, the person can have difficulty recalling names, lose possessions frequently, and get lost easily, and a loss of the sense of smell begins to gradually occur.
As the disease progresses, the individual becomes unable to complete simple tasks requiring learned motor skills, behavior problems increase which include wandering, aggression, and sleep disorders, and frequent occurrence of these behaviors can affect the individual’s ability to maintain weight and nutritional status.
During late stages of the disease the individual loses the ability to communicate, and eventually the individual becomes unable to walk and becomes either chair bound or bed bound. About a third of individuals with the disease develop hyperactivity that drains any nutritional reserves that the individual may have and caloric needs increase.
Anorexia Related to Aging
When an older adult experiences a reduction in appetite and food intake is reduced this can contribute to undernourishment in the older adult. The adult becomes malnourished leading to numerous other problems such as immune deficiencies, anemia, risk of falls and a decline in cognition.
Adult Health Concerns - Arthritis
Arthritis describes more than 100 diseases that can cause pain and swelling of the joints and connective tissue, and thus is a general term for all of these diseases. The disease is a chronic condition that can make movement difficult or impossible resulting in the older adult having difficulty or the inability to properly feed his or herself if at all.
In addition, the pain may be so severe that it affects the individual’s appetite and some of the medications used to treat the ailment may impair proper absorption of nutrients, thus the arthritis suffer must have a nutrient dense diet to help counteract the loss of some nutrients through poor absorption.
Those that suffer arthritis must also be conscious of weight management, since excess weight puts extra pressure on hips and knees.
Adult Health Concerns - Bladder and Bowel Regulation Issues
In older adults there may be inadequate hydration which not only affects the bladder but which can result in constipation. In addition, age related declines in motility of the intestines as well as transit time, in addition to poor food intake may compound the problem. Further, lack of physical exercise contributes to the loss of muscle tone that is needed for regular elimination.
In order for older adults to combat bladder and bowel problems an increase in fiber in the diet as well as an increase in fluid intake will help to alleviate the problem. For some older adults the supplementation with prebiotics such as fructooligosaccharides and probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus may improve gastrointestinal health, as opposed to some older adults resorting to abusing laxatives to facilitate regular bowel movements.
Adult Health Concerns - Dental Health Issues
The mouth is the beginning of the gastrointestinal system, poor oral health impairs the older adult’s ability to eat and consume adequate nutrition. Missing teeth and poorly fitting dentures make some older adults unable to feel comfortable about eating in public. Mouth pain and problems swallowing can also interfere with the eating process. In addition, tooth loss can result in the older adult not choosing certain food of a harder texture that require chewing and opting for softer more liquid foods that can be swallowed more easily with minimal or no chewing. Thus choosing meats, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables may not occur. Furthermore, when oral infections occur these can affect the entire body and may increase the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease.
Adult Health Concerns - Depression
Contrary to popular belief many older adults experience feelings of well being in their older years, although depression is one of the most common psychological effects of aging. Depression is believed to be a result of the loss of receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin one of the feel good chemicals of the brain. In addition, loss of these receptors may cause difficulties in cognition.
When depression does occur it is often due to life transitions and stressful events such as loss of loved ones, physical disability, and inability to care for oneself, social isolation, and approach of death.
Depression in turn can lead to malnutrition which is a result of loss of appetite. Among older adults there is also a prevalence of alcoholism among socially isolated and depressed older adults which can also result in alcohol related malnutrition due a diet low in essential nutrients.
Drug/Drug and Drug/Food Interactions
Drugs and medications affect the way the body uses nutrients and can also alter the interactions of other drugs and medications. Foods and nutrients can also interfere with or enhance the effects of drugs and medications. Some of these drugs and medications interfere with appetite and others can cause a dry mouth. Many older adults take several medications or are on long term drug therapy these adults can be at an increased nutritional risk.
Adult Health Concerns - Osteoporosis
Both men and women can be at risk as they get older for osteoporosis, but it is generally more common among postmenopausal women. An inadequate amount of both vitamin D and calcium in the diet in the older adult’s early years can increase the risk of osteoporosis in later years resulting in brittle bones that are at increased risk for fracture. In addition, decreased physical activity such as through being bedridden or as a result of long illnesses that limit mobility can increase the risk for osteoporosis. By having a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D as well as engaging in regular physical exercise particularly weight bearing exercises the risk for osteoporosis can be minimized.
Adult Health Concerns - Vision Problems
Having poor vision or being blind can interfere with good nutrition in the older person. It is difficult if not impossible to purchase and prepare foods without adequate vision, since it may become difficult to read food labels, cookbooks, the settings on stoves and microwaves.
The most common eye disorder that affects older adults is macular degeneration which gradually leads to a loss of vision. By consuming green leafy vegetables and food that contain the Carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin the risk of macular degeneration can be reduced.
For other information about adult health concerns click on the link to nihseniorhealth.gov
For other information on nutrition some great references are:
• Nutrition – Fourth Edition by Paul Insel, Don Ross, Kimberley McMahon, and Melissa Bernstein
Nutrition and Pregnancy
Nutrition During Pregnancy
Nutrition After Pregnancy
Infant Solids Nutrition
Life Cycle Nutrition
Older Adult Changes
Adult Nutrient Needs
Alcohol and Diet
Nutrition Eating Disorders
Exercise and Vitamins
Nutrition and Exercise
Nutrients In Food
Energy From Food
Water and Nutrition
Cooking and Nutrition
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