Nutrition For The Elderly

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

The world is facing an inevitable ageing population, which will likely spike up national spending on medical expenses. What can manufacturers do to help the elderly age well? By Michelle Cheong

Amanda Mills

Today, humanity is facing a unique and inevitable challenge, but it is not one that we cannot overcome. The problem: ageing. Ageing in itself is not particularly the problem, because it is part of life and is inevitable; what makes it a problem is the scale of ageing that the world is facing, collectively.

Of the estimated 7.3 billion people living in the world today, about 901 million of them are aged 60 and over, according to United Nations. This figure is likely to continue growing at a fast pace with improvements in living conditions and medical advancement. In fact, the elderly population is growing at an average rate of 3.62 percent per year, and by 2030, the number of persons over 60 is projected to reach 1.4 billion.

So how is this a problem?

With more elderly, there will likely be a need for increased spending on health care for both the government and individuals, since elderly are more prone to age-related diseases, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, etc. These additional expenses would then have a rippling effect on the dwindling working class as they would need to compensate for the added government spending with increased taxes, on top of needing to look after their own aged family members.

In order to alleviate some of the pressure from the working class, one way could be to ensure the elderly age well—i.e. keeping the elderly healthy so they would be less likely plagued by excessively-costing diseases. It is therefore essential to understand first how the elderly differ from the general population, before figuring how and what can be done to improve or maintain their health.

Elderly Nutrition

The elderly face an entire range of problems from head to foot because of ageing. Besides the aforementioned diseases, the elderly are also prone to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitively deteriorating disorders like dementia, ailing vision and hearing, poor oral health, respiratory diseases, ailing joint health, and with weaker muscles, bones and joints—falls and subsequent fractures.

As such, proper nutrition for the elderly is all the more important, to ensure that their health is maintained and healthcare fees remain minimal. Products catered to the elderly should be enhanced with ingredients to improve or maintain health of specific areas in the body such as for eye health, digestive health, or bone and joint health, shared Emil Fazira Bte Kamari, research analyst, Euromonitor International. These ingredients can be taken as supplements, or through food and beverage products such as fresh milk that has been enhanced with plant sterols, pro- and pre-biotics, omega-3, and more.

According to Chris Lim, product manager at Nutraceutical Ingredients Private Limited, the ingredients in these products catered to the elderly (versus the general population) should also not only be safe, but should have proven health benefits backed by clinical studies. One example of such an ingredient is collagen or collagen peptides that have been found to help to significantly regenerate cartilage tissue in patients. More extensive research is currently underway to prove the ingredient is a viable treatment for patients with joint problems or osteoarthritis, he said.

There are also other considerations when it comes to elderly nutrition products. Packaging and food texture are especially important ones, said Mr Lim. “Food packaging must be easy to open and food texture cannot be too tough,” he said. Muscle deterioration in elderly persons might affect their ability to perform even simple daily tasks like turning a door knob, and since the elderly are likely to have dental problems, semi-liquid or liquid products would probably be easier for the elderly to consume, he explained.

Also, one of the top challenges that elderly face in old age is dysphagia, according to Dr Chin-Kun Wang, president, International Society for Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods. Therefore, products that can help aid in swallowing—such as by having a high viscosity—would definitely be beneficial for them.

Another consideration is that of dosage. Manufacturers would need to ensure that food and beverage products are able to offer elderly consumers the right dosage per serving in order for them to receive maximum benefits from the product itself.

Manufacturing For Elderly

Debora Cartagena

Surprisingly, despite knowing all these considerations and ingredients that can best benefit the elderly, few products on the shelves actually cater only for the elderly. A reason for this is the strict regulations that restrict manufacturers from making health claims on products catered to the elderly market, shared Ms Emil.

As such, most products meant for elderly nutrition or to promote healthy ageing are therefore positioned instead as for the general population. “Manufacturers have to rely on education campaigns so that consumers are able to identify the right ingredients in tackling healthy ageing,” she said.

This may well work in the current situation today, what with consumers of all ages being more aware of the importance of health and taking more interest in products for preventative health and healthy ageing. There is a rising demand for products that are close to their natural state, free from pesticides, or low or free from fats and sugar, said Mr Lim.

Consumers are becoming more health-conscious and better educated, such that even the elderly are including dietary supplements to their everyday diet for further health benefits, he said. Manufacturers in this area would do well to innovate multi-purpose serving products as elderly consumers will not be content with just single ingredients; they will look for products with beneficial combination of ingredients such as those positioned for joint health but include added vitamins.

With the elderly population increasing year on year, the imminent ageing population of the world would definitely be a lucrative market for food and beverage manufacturers and one that is a “silver” opportunity not to be missed.