Getting older is an inevitable part of life, but it’s never too late for someone to take control of their health and make simple dietary and lifestyle changes.
By Harriet Smith, Registered Dietitian
This warmer summertime weather is a cause for celebration; however it can be accompanied by nutritional challenges. In this article we offer our top tips for helping older adults to stay healthy and hydrated during the summer months.
As the temperature outside increases, so too does the amount of body water lost through sweat. A loss of just 2% of body weight from fluid losses can result in increased risk of heat exhaustion (1). If these fluid losses are not replenished, dehydration can occur.
In the UK, it’s estimated that 20% of older adults (aged > 65 years) in long-term care are dehydrated (2). Older people may experience physical and physiological challenges which can increase their susceptibility to dehydration. These may include (3, 4, 5):
Adequate hydration is essential for good health at all ages, but the effects of dehydration can be especially serious for the elderly. Common consequences of dehydration in elderly people may include (6):
If it’s not addressed, dehydration can cause a rapid deterioration in health, exacerbating existing comorbidities, and increasing the chances of death. Thus, in warmer weather, it’s important to ensure that an older person’s fluid requirements are met.
An individual’s fluid requirements are likely to differ depending on a variety of factors such as climate, health status, gender and physical activity level. Therefore, fluid requirements should ideally be assessed on a case-by-case basis by a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
As a rule-of-thumb, healthy adults over the age of 60 require at least 30ml of fluid per kilogram of body weight each day (7). For a 60kg individual, this is equivalent to 1,800ml fluid per day (approximately nine (200ml) glasses of fluid).
Try to offer a range of drinks which are different flavours and temperatures. You could experiment with plain or sparkling water, fruit squash or cordial, juices and smoothies, milkshakes and tea and coffee.
Older adults, especially those in hospital or residential care, are at increased risk of malnutrition. In the UK, it is estimated that 1.3 million people over 65 suffer from malnutrition (8). Malnutrition affects every system of the body and can have severe consequences for health, reducing physical and cognitive functional status in the elderly (9).
Physical effects of ageing such as diminished sense of smell and taste, impaired ability to swallow, and limited motility, as well as social factors such as isolation and poverty can contribute towards malnutrition risk. However, hot weather can also exacerbate this risk. It is commonly reported that during hot weather, appetite declines and hot foods are less tempting, resulting in reduced food intake (10).
When looking after an older person, the following tips may be useful for encouraging them to eat enough during the summer months:
Using a food-first approach is useful for individuals with poor appetite and reduced food intake. It increases the energy and nutrient density of meals and snacks without increasing the volume of food consumed (11). You could consider:
For those who are unable to meet their nutritional requirements through an oral diet alone, oral nutritional supplements (ONS) can offer a convenient way to increase nutritional intake.
To increase compliance with ONS usage during the summer months, you could: