We know that protein is one of three vital nutrients that are needed for optimal health, regardless of the life stage. Our body uses protein to build, repair and maintain our lean muscle mass. Without muscles, we simply cannot move, but that is not all. Beyond just the obvious muscles that we use to lift, push, pull or even just walk around, there are other muscles that we need to even be able to live. Our heart is a muscle, as is the diaphragm, a necessary component of our respiratory system.
But protein does not only play a role in lean muscle mass, it is necessary for other purposes as well. Protein is a vital component for every cell in the body. Protein is transformed into enzymes which then push biochemical reactions forward. These compounds are propelled across the various membranes and through the blood.
There are a number of reasons that older adults may not get enough calories, let alone enough of the vital nutrients, protein, fat and carbohydrates. These reasons can include:
- Lack of funds for adequate foods
- The inability to shop for themselves
- Improperly fitting dentures
- Loneliness, depression and other factors that can limit appetite
- Dementia or senility which may also interfere with appetite and eating skills
- Physical conditions which may block absorption of a number of nutrients
One of the first things that older adults stop eating is typically meat, which is usually one of the biggest sources for protein in many diets. They may stop eating meat for the reasons listed above. They also may stop eating it because our tastes change as we get older. Foods that were once favorites may no longer be enjoyed by the older adult.
Adults with dementia or senility may not eat because they simply do not remember to eat, or they may start a meal and walk away, never going back. They may eat food that is no longer safe for them, putting them at huge risk for illnesses such as food poisoning. It may be hard to keep the adult with dementia healthy, especially since they will no longer sit down and sit still for a full meal. It is possible to give these patients liquid protein supplements to maintain a minimum of health.