Ageing does not mean that you will shrink and become very weak and slow. But the risk of frailty increases with age, and malnutrition is the primary cause of it.
Recent research here has shown that good nutrition, physical activity and cognitive stimulation can help reverse frailty.
Last year, it was reported in the Journal Of The American Medical Directors Association that of the 6,000 seniors who live at home and are involved in the Singapore Longitudinal Ageing Studies, 3 per cent were malnourished and 28 per cent were at risk of malnutrition. And 91 per cent of those who were malnourished were either frail or pre-frail.
Older adults who are frail often end up with adverse health outcomes, such as more frequent hospitalisation.
Ms Joanne Loh, a dietitian at the nutrition and dietetics department of Yishun Community Hospital, said the symptoms of under-nutrition to look out for in older adults include:
•Unexpected weight loss of 5 to 10 per cent over a period of six months;
•Newfound difficulty in getting up from a sitting position
•Unsteady gait and/or repeated falls
•Tiredness or fatigue
The role of nutrition in preventing frailty is sometimes misunderstood, she said.
She debunks three myths:
MYTH #1: Older adults do not need to eat as much as before.
FACT: Although our metabolism slows down and our energy output decreases with age, nutrition is key to ageing well. Older adults require a full range of nutrients (protein, calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12) and fibre from a variety of foods to maintain good health.
Low protein intake can lead to muscle loss and osteoporosis, while low vitamin D levels are linked to greater risk of falls, osteoporosis, fractures, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, cancers and poorer cognitive function.
MYTH #2: Frailty is part of ageing.
FACT: Frailty is not an inevitable part of ageing, though the elderly are at greater risk of malnutrition. Some people become more frail as they age, but this can be prevented or delayed with good nutrition and adequate physical activity.
MYTH #3: I don't need to drink water as I am not thirsty. I also find going to the toilet a hassle.
FACT: Thirst is not generally a reliable indicator of fluid needs in older adults, as their sensitivity to the thirst signal as well as their urinary concentrating ability often decline with age.
Dehydration in older adults is thus often overlooked, but it can bring on confusion and delirium. Drink more fluids during the day and less towards the end of the day to reduce the need to urinate in the middle of the night.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.