March is National Nutrition Month! This is a great time to pay attention to the foods that we choose.
While the basic guidelines for a healthy diet are pretty much the same for people of every age, older adults have special needs and concerns. Nutrition affects the all-around health of seniors, is a factor in a senior’s ability to properly absorb medications, and can have an impact on various health conditions that are common as we get older. If a senior loved one’s nutrition habits aren’t supporting good health, it might be time to sit down over a good meal and bring up the topic. And if you’ve never given much thought to nutrition, now might be the time to take a look at your own dietary choices!
Try your hand at this trivia quiz to see how much you know about the nutritional concerns of older adults.
1. The average person gains 10 to 20 pounds from age 45 to 65. This is…
A. Normal and desirable. We need body fat to keep us warm.
B. To be avoided. A person’s recommended weight remains the same throughout adulthood.
C. Unusual. Few people gain weight as they grow older.
D. Caused only by growing older, and not by inactivity or overeating.
Answer: B. Avoiding excess weight gain as we grow older helps us remain active and independent. While recent studies suggest that a few extra pounds won’t hurt us, maintaining a healthy weight is important for preventing or managing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.
2. Being significantly underweight…
A. Is a “red flag” for possible health problems.
B. Is great—the thinner the better!
C. Can lead to fatigue, mental confusion and depression.
D. A and C
Answer: D. Recent studies confirm that a slight weight “reserve” is beneficial for elders. When we lose too much weight, we are at greater risk for osteoporosis and other health problems. Report unexplained weight loss to the healthcare provider right away.
3. Poor diet in older adults can lead to…
B. Mental confusion
C. Increased risk of falls
D. All of the above
Answer: D. During our senior years, it’s as important as ever to consume the nutrients our bodies need for good health. Sometimes without anyone noticing right away, seniors can be caught up in a cycle of poor nutrition and health problems. It’s important to address the problems that lead to appetite loss.
4. Loss of appetite can be caused by…
A. Depression and loneliness
C. Tooth or denture problems
D. All of the above
Answer: D. Mood disorders, some medications taken for conditions such as heart disease and pain control, and tooth problems or poorly fitted dentures are all common causes of appetite loss in seniors. The first step is to address these problems. The healthcare provider may also recommend nutritional supplements if weight loss continues to be a problem.
5. If a person suffered a stroke, or has Parkinson’s, arthritis or another condition that makes eating difficult, he or she…
A. Will never be able to relearn independent eating.
B. Should not rely on adaptive devices like long-handled spoons.
C. Can get help from a rehabilitation therapist.
D. Should be discouraged from trying to feed him- or herself.
Answer: C. Physical limitations are another major cause of poor nutrition. If eating is difficult or discouraging, an occupational therapist can offer innovative ways to eat as independently as possible. Speech-language therapists provide help for swallowing disorders.
6. People with heart disease should limit the intake of…
A. Cholesterol and saturated fat
C. Whole grains
Answer: A. Limiting cholesterol intake is important for preventing and managing heart disease. High fat and cholesterol diets are also linked with increased risk of stroke, cancer and other disorders. Choices B, C and D on the list are all foods that promote heart health.
7. Which of these foods does not contain cholesterol?
Answer: A. Avocados, while higher in calories than most fruits and vegetables, contain a healthy type of fat. Cholesterol is only found in meat and dairy products.
8. Which statement about vitamins and supplements is true?
A. It is possible to take a harmful overdose of supplements.
B. All seniors can get the nutrients they need from food alone.
C. Supplements are regulated by the FDA.
D. The recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals is the same for people of every age.
Answer: A. While eating well is the best path to good nutrition, vitamins and other supplements may be recommended for older adults. But be sure to follow the doctor’s advice on which and how much to take. The bodies of older adults process toxic substances less efficiently, and it is possible to take a harmful amount of substances such as vitamins A and D, calcium and iron.
9. Older adults are the age group most likely to…
A. Get all the nutrients they need from food sources alone.
B. Be targeted by sellers of fraudulent nutritional products and supplements.
C. Be skeptical about supplements sold as “anti-aging” products.
D. Research the value of supplements before purchasing them.
Answer: B. Seniors are often targeted by unscrupulous companies who sell useless and possibly dangerous vitamins or food supplements. These companies make attractive but impossible claims about “miracle anti-aging” products, and their numbers are growing every year. If your loved one is purchasing these products, encourage him or her to discuss this with the healthcare provider.
10. Seniors on a limited income may skimp on nutritious foods. Help may be available through…
A. Meals on Wheels
B. Congregate eating centers, like Senior Hot Lunch
C. Food stamps
D. All of the above
Answer: D. Senior nutrition programs are available in most communities. Hot meals or frozen meals can be delivered right to a senior’s home; others prefer to go to a dining center, where they can enjoy socialization along with their meal. Your local Senior Information agency will have more information about these programs.
Source: Assisting Hands® in association with IlluminAge, © IlluminAge 2013