Long-Term Care

Recognizing body changes that influence proper nutrition

LTC Nursing Assistant Trainer, July 1, 2010

People who are sick or elderly have different food requirements than young, healthy people. They are also more likely to suffer harm from not eating the right foods. After age 50, there are chemical and physical changes in the body that affect nutritional needs. The metabolic rate (metabolism), which is the speed at which the body uses energy, slows down. Older individuals burn less fuel for daily operations. This means seniors need fewer calories for normal everyday activities. Other nutrition-affecting changes that occur with age include:

  • Lean tissue and muscle mass decrease. There is also less bone mass. Body fat increases.
  • Stomach acid may decrease and the stomach might not empty as fast. The intestine may absorb less nutrition from food.
  • Tooth and gum problems increase, sometimes making it difficult to chew.
  • Some people have trouble swallowing, especially those who have suffered from a stroke.
  • There is a loss of taste and smell, which often causes people to be less interested in food.
  • Sometimes people are too weak or tired to eat an entire meal.
  • Appetite and thirst decrease. Many elderly or ill people eat and drink less than they should. This leads to fatigue, sadness, infections, skin breakdowns, and lack of energy. Medications can also affect appetite or thirst.
  • Many diseases also affect the way the body uses food or water. Someone with an illness usually needs more food and water because the body needs energy to heal. People with some conditions, however, must carefully control the amount and type of calories they take in (e.g., diabetes).

This is an excerpt from the HCPro book, The CNA Training Solution, Second Edition.

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