What people put into their bodies affects how their bodies work, move, and react to different situations in life; regardless of their age. Fueling the body improves health by providing people with the nutrients they need to live positive, happy, and healthy lives. Eating a nutritious diet can help older adults to maintain their strength and independence and reduce their risk of falling. Poor nutrition can cause health effects such as dizziness, weakness, light-headedness, reduced concentration and headaches; all of which can increase older adult’s risk of falling.
Encourage older adults to fuel their bodies by:
- Eating regular meals with a variety of foods from all five food groups
- Drinking more water and staying hydrated
- Drinking less alcohol
Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients which are particularly important for older adults to reduce their falls risk. These nutrients play key roles in maintaining and improving bone and muscle function and strength.
Vitamin D is essential for bone and muscle health. It also has the capacity to improve dynamic balance and proximal muscle strength. Vitamin D also helps the body to absorb more calcium. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of falls in older adults. One third of Australians do not meet their daily required vitamin D levels for bone health.
The amount of daily sun exposure that individuals require depends on factors such as individual skin colour and the location and season. For people with moderately fair skin, exposure of the arms (or equivalent) for 6-7 minutes mid-morning and mid-afternoon in summer will maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Dark skinned people will require 3-6 times longer exposure.
Individuals who receive no sun exposure or very little exposure are recommended to take vitamin D supplements in order to prevent deficiency. NPS Medicine Wise Vitamin D tests and deficiency Fact Sheet provides information on who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and how people can be tested.
Calcium is necessary for development and maintenance of bones. It forms with other minerals to make the bones hard and strong.
Studies have shown that older people do not have enough calcium in their diet to maintain their bone strength and prevent bone loss, therefore placing people at increased risk of a fracture if they fall.
Clinical trials have shown that calcium supplementation, especially when it is combined with vitamin D, helps to reduce the rate of bone loss and fractures in those who are deficient.
It is recommended that an adult’s required daily intake (RDI) of calcium is (1000-1300mg, depending on age and sex) is achieved through diet, including ‘calcium rich’ foods. Three serves of dairy foods per day, or calcium-rich non-dairy alternatives are recommended. However, if individual circumstances mean that this is not possible, supplementation may be needed.
Useful information to provide older adults about healthy eating:
The Australian Dietary Guidelines are a joint initiative between the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Department of Health and Ageing. They provide recommendations (based on the latest scientific evidence) on how to eat a healthy diet to improve health and reduce the risk of preventable diet-related death, illness and disability. The guidelines apply to all healthy Australians from the age of six months through to 70 years, as well as individuals with common health conditions such as being overweight. The guidelines do not apply to individuals who need special dietary advice for a medical condition, or to the frail elderly.
Eat for Health website: http://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/.
Healthy Eating for Adults: Eat for Health and Wellbeing is a great brochure to provide older adults with information on how to select nutritious foods and appropriate servings for their age.
Barriers to good nutrition:
It is important to consider possible underlying causes of poor nutrition. Many of these causes can be addressed in order to make it easier for older adults to eat a nutritious diet. Underlying causes can include:
- Oral health and dentition problems
- Swallowing difficulties
- Poor appetite
- Difficulties purchasing and storing food
- Inability to prepare meals
- Social isolation and depression