October 1, 2020, marked the 30th anniversary of International Day of Older Persons (IDOP), and this year’s observance highlighted the healthcare workforce with special recognition given to nurses and the role of women. IDOP aligns with the principles of active aging as both raise awareness about how older adults can contribute to their own health, even during this time of COVID-19.
The IDOP also promoted the World Health Organization’s Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030), which has set 10 priorities (https://www.who.int/ageing/10-priorities/en/), including investing in healthy aging. The IDOP and Decade of Healthy Ageing are so important because the world population is aging rapidly, with adults 65 and older now outnumbering the number of children under 5 for the first time in history.
By 2050, there will be an estimated 1.5 billion people who are 60 or older, further demonstrating the need to provide information about healthy and active aging.
COVID-19 has revealed an increased need to strengthen systems and policies that support the needs of older adults. Because of the virus, many older adults are isolating themselves, which may limit their access to food, particularly healthy food. However, research has shown that staying well-nourished can be one of the best ways for older adults to support their immune system and promote healthy aging.
The challenge of malnutrition
Staying well-nourished can be a challenge, and studies show up to one out of two older adults are either malnourished or at risk of becoming malnourished. Malnutrition or poor nutrition occurs when the body does not get adequate nutrients. It can happen for multiple reasons, including limited access to food, changes in appetite and digestion, limited ability to grocery shop and cook, social isolation or changes in mental health.
The rate of malnutrition is highest with older adults, and malnutrition can lead to longer hospital stays, increased readmissions and greater healthcare costs. This is why the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition created Malnutrition Awareness WeekTM, which will be marked from October 5 through 9 in 2020.
Check out the webinars, resources and patient stories available to help spread the word about this important week and this important subject.
Support good nutrition and healthy aging
Be aware. Ask older adults or their caregivers these questions:
- Have you lost weight without trying?
- Has your appetite changed?
- Are you not able to eat well or able to eat only small amounts?
- Do you feel weak or tired?
- Have you had swelling or fluid accumulation?
If the answers to any of these questions are yes, suggest the older adult or caregiver contact a medical provider and set an appoint with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Encourage good practices and emphasize these tips to help prevent malnutrition and support healthy aging in your population.
- Daily eat three balanced meals that include protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat.
- Protein: Focus on lean meats, seafood, legumes and beans.
- Carbohydrates: Focus on whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, fruits and vegetables.
- Healthy fats: Focus on nuts, nut butter, avocado and fatty fish like salmon.
- Eat fiber
- Use fruits as a healthy, sweet snack.
- Try to have a serving of vegetables at each meal.
- Stay hydrated.
- Try to drink at least 64 ounces of water daily.
- Move daily.
- Try to be active for 20 to 30 minutes daily.
- Practice two days of resistance training per week to maintain lean muscle mass.
Lacresha Johnson, MS, is a health policy consultant and a registered dietitian nutritionist candidate, with a master’s in nutrition from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. Lacresha is also a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Public Health/Community Nutrition Practice group of the Academy.