University of Massachusetts Amherst

It's MORE Than A Meal


Special Nutrition Needs of Older Adults

aging & nutritional well-being

Many older adults face changes that can affect their food intake and nutritional status. The changes may be physical, health-related, social, or psychological. The nature and extent of these changes will vary among adults. Good nutrition can help older adults to improve their health and maintain their quality of life, in spite of these changes.

Physical Changes  

  • Older adults may need fewer calories to maintain their weight, but still need the same amounts (or even more) of vitamins and minerals as they did in their younger years.
  • Changes in vision, taste, or smell can affect appetite or enjoyment of foods.
  • Dental problems may limit intake of certain foods.
  • Digestive changes can affect the way the body absorbs certain nutrients.
  • A decreased sense of thirst can raise the risk of dehydration.

Changes in Health Status

  • Immune function may decline and prolong recovery from illness.
  • Aging can affect how medicines work in the body, and how they interact with foods. Medicines can alter appetite or taste.
  • Acute illness can lead to decreased appetite.
  • Older adults are at increased risk for chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, or osteoporosis.

Psychological or Social Changes

  • The loss of a spouse or partner can lead to changes in eating patterns.
  • Less income after retirement may lead to cutting nutritious foods from the budget.
  • A reduced ability to drive may make it hard to buy food from the grocery store.
  • Cognitively impaired adults are less able to buy foods, prepare meals, or use utensils.

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Developed for the Massachusetts Department of Education Child and Adult Care Food Program by the University of Massachusetts Extension Nutrition Education Program. Permission is hereby granted by the Massachusetts Department of Education to copy any or all parts of this document for non-commercial educational purposes. The Massachusetts Department of Education, an Affirmative Action employer, is committed to ensuring that all of its programs and facilities are accessible to all members of the public. We do not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.