Life expectancy of both genders is increasing and the proportion of older people continues to rise, with increasing numbers of older people living in the community with a range of chronic diseases that impact on quality of life. We know that adoption of a healthy diet early in life can reduce the risk of, or delay the onset of a range of chronic disease, however it appears that the dietary recommendations that are effective in reducing disease risk in early and mid-life may not be are appropriate for later life. There is considerable evidence indicating that those >65 years require significantly more nutrients than mid-life to maintain functional status and optimal quality of life such as calcium and vitamin D. Muscle strength, which is related to muscle mass, is the key determinant of maintaining activities of daily living. The maintenance of muscle strength requires a combination of resistance exercise and increased amounts of dietary protein. Although there has been a massive increase in the number of older people who are classified as overweight and obese, the evidence to date does not support the implementation of weight loss programs in older people, as it appears that carrying some additional weight over the age of 65 years reduces mortality. As the number of “very old” (those > 85years) increases, where weight loss is common, there is an increasing need to implement widespread nutrition screening in both community and residential care settings. This initiative needs to be supported by education programs, and the development suitable meals and foods that reduce the risk of malnutrition and optimise energy and nutrient intake to maintain quality of life.
Funding source(s): Meat & Livestock Australia, Heart Foundation of Australia