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Healthy nutrition for the elderly

Good nutrition is essential for health. This is certainly the
case for the elderly in order to improve health and activity, and through that to increase quality of life and independence.

Elderly people can become malnourished by eating too little or an unhealthy diet. This can lead to people becoming less fit or less mobile, and susceptible to illness. Some 12% of the elderly living at home are malnourished and also 35% of those who have home help. The question is if, and if so, how this can be improved so that people can remain living independently for longer.

Two older gentlemen in a bakery 

The same diet

In 2014, RIVM carried out a study on whether undernourished elderly people have a different diet to those who are not undernourished. Data from the most recent food consumption survey on relatively healthy elderly people (2012) indicated that this is not the case. Another RIVM study, the Doetinchem Cohort Study, which is one of the few long-term studies on changes in lifestyle and health of the elderly, indicated that the diet of middle-aged adults has improved over the last ten years but is still not optimal.

Replacing laxatives

In assessing whether healthy nutrition can contribute to reducing medication use, a study was conducted to investigate the extent to which a change in diet could be an effective alternative to laxative use. Replacing the medicine psyllium seed, which is used by more than 57,000 elderly people, appears to be a realistic option. For instance, half the standard daily dose can be replaced by eating one prune and drinking one glass of orange juice with fruit particles. This could represent a cost saving of about 2.3 million euros a year.

Nutrition interventions

Another way to improve nutrition in the elderly is through interventions organised, for instance, by the community health services or care centres to stimulate more healthy eating. RIVM reported on this matter in 2014.

There are very few nutrition interventions for the elderly in the Netherlands, less than 20 interventions. Most interventions are directed to preventing chronic diseases in the elderly living alone, for example, by providing information. Two-thirds of people over the age of 65 have one or more chronic diseases.

The inventory has shown that interventions do not always respond to practical problems that older people have in preparing a healthy meal. More effort is required to shop for and to prepare a healthy meal by older people, who are less mobile, have sight impairment, suffer from dementia, or have impaired fine motor skills. Social initiatives, such as the shopping bus, could offer a solution for such practical problems.