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Common Eating Problems in the Elderly

Our bodily function changes as we age. Eating problems caused by the decline of physiological functions are common among the elderly. This can result in an imbalanced diet that may subsequently affect nutritional status. With proper dietary modifications, these eating problems can be resolved.

1. Chewing difficulties

Causes:

  • Loosened teeth, ill-fitting dentures or decreased saliva secretion can all result in chewing discomfort or difficulties.

Care:

  • Choose the food with suitable texture.
Food groups Food examples
Grains Congee, noodles, oatmeal, etc.,
Vegetables Winter-melon, hairy gourd, spinach, tomato, etc.,
Fruits Banana, papaya, grapes, etc.,
Meat, fish, eggs and alternatives Minced meat, fish, egg, beancurd, etc.,
Milk and alternatives Milk, cheese, etc.,
  • Cut food into smaller pieces by chopping or grinding, modify food texture by pureeing with blenders before eating, cook food thoroughly until tender, or add sauces.
  • Visit dentists regularly and wear well-fitted dentures.

2. Reduced taste

Causes:

  • Deterioration of taste buds.

Care:

  • To add flavour, use herbs or spices such as ginger, spring onion, garlic or dried tangerine peel, etc., (western herbs like parsley, coriander, pepper, etc.,) to season foods instead of preserved or pickled food and seasonings such as salted fish, salted eggs, miso, oyster sauce, etc., (western food or seasonings like sausages, stock cubes, salt at table, etc.,).
  • Encourage chewing and ensure proper dental hygiene.
  • Avoid cigarette smoking.

3. Dry mouth

Causes:

  • Reduced saliva production

Care:

  • Ensure adequate fluid intake.
  • Choose moist food such as congee, mashed gourd or steamed egg pudding. (western food like mashed potato, baked beans, meat stew, etc.,)
  • Provide food with sauces, gravies or clear soup, or soften bread or crackers with milk or soup.
  • Drink some water to moisten the mouth before meals or chew on some pickles or fresh lemon slices to stimulate saliva secretion.

4. Poor digestion

Causes:

  • Reduced saliva and digestive juices may lead to poor digestion and nutrient absorption, which is often associated with symptoms such as nausea and flatulence after meals.

Care:

  • Have small, frequent meals and chew slowly.
  • Avoid intake of fried or high fat food and reduce intake of caffeine or alcohol-containing food or drinks.
  • Avoid lying down right after meals; performing light physical activities such as walking may help digestion.

5. Poor appetite

Causes:

  • Illness, gastrointestinal discomfort or ill-fitting dentures.
  • Side effect of drugs.
  • Poor psychological and emotional well-being.

Care:

  • Have small, frequent meals supplemented with nutrient dense snacks such as bread with cheese or peanut butter, dessert soup made with milk, eggs or beancurd, etc., (western food like custard pudding, ice-cream, yoghurt)
  • Use herbs or spices such as ginger, spring onion, garlic or dried tangerine peel, etc., (western herbs like parsley, coriander, pepper, etc.,) as seasonings, or garnish food with carrot or corn to make dishes more attractive.
  • Prepare foods that are nutrient-dense by adding minced meat, fish, beancurd, egg, potato or dried beans into congee, noodles or soup. Encourage consuming soup ingredients together with the soup so as to increase nutrient intake.

Menu suggestions:

Red beans, lotus root and lean pork soup

Blackeye peas, papaya, beancurd and fish soup

Tomato, potato and minced pork soup

Corn, beancurd and egg soup

Congee with minced pork and shredded lettuce

Noodle with fish slices and vegetables

Western style:

Lentil soup

Cream of tomato soup

Chicken corn chowder

Pasta with cream sauce and minced meat

Salad with beans and cheese

Caution:

Consult your doctor if the eating problem persists or worsens to prevent adverse effects on your nutritional status.