As someone who has been in practice for almost 30 years, I have many elderly patients. They have aged with me over the years and many times I actually learn from them rather than them learning from me. Most of my patients in their 80s do not overeat and are not overweight. My guess is that those who did are not here anymore. I usually don’t have to give eating advice to an 80 year old.
What I’ve learned from my “ladies in their 80s” is to eat small portions and then you can eat just about everything. Your body does not need as many calories as you age since your body mass declines, and your activity level is much lower. You must adjust accordingly or you will gain weight. If you are over 60, you’ve probably experienced this!
As we age, the most common suggestion I have is to eat slower and to increase vegetables and salads. Most of the older patients have gastrointestinal tracts that process food more slowly than when they were younger. The esophagus does not function as it did and therefore bites and swallows should be smaller and accompanied by more liquid. The colon doesn’t function like it did in earlier years and so it needs more fiber.
Fiber is essential because most of the patients in this age group also have diverticular disease. Fiber supplementation will promote more normal colon function. Incontinence of stool can also be a problem in the elderly. This responds to fiber as well in at least 50 percent of the patients.
I usually don’t have to tell an 80 year old how to eat, most of the time I learn from them.
My elderly patients have three things in common:
- They weren’t always well behaved. Most of them had the usual habits that many of us have today. They drank, smoked, stayed out, overate, etc. The key differentiating factor in this group—they knew when to stop. Most of them smile about their early days but they all knew when to say when to the bad habits.
- They were never obese. None of my patients in their 80s and 90s are obese. I suspect they never were or else they would not be here today.
- They remained engaged with life. Many of them still work. I’ve always been impressed with the drive and passion of this group of patients. They didn’t retire and stop moving. A body in motion needs to stay in motion.
As I said, I get more out of them than they get out of me.