In its National program for Food, the French government asserted its objective to ensure a safe, diverse and quantity-sufficient diet for the whole population. One fifth of the French population is over 60 and senior citizens are a fragile demographic group that requires special attention. Several guidelines were released last month to specify what should be done to help elderly people to maintain a healthy diet.

Elderly people are more likely to suffer from malnutrition than the rest of the population. They can lose their autonomy for everyday tasks such as shopping and cooking. They also tend to lose their taste for eating once they are isolated both literally and figuratively due to a loss of palate sensitivity as well as supportive social contact Several solutions have been developed by the French government, depending on the person’s level of autonomy.

©Cheick.saidou/Min.Agri.Fr

©Cheick.saidou/Min.Agri.Fr

For elderly people still at home

Elderly people are encouraged to cook if they are still able to. Several services are at their disposal to do so: public transportation to go shopping, front door delivery of groceries thanks to many local stores’ online services, in-house help for cooking, support from relatives. For people who can’t cook, meal delivery is another option to consider. These convenient services provide the less-capable with a way to preserve social connections. Delivery companies are encouraged to develop this social side by consistently delivering, when possible, to the same customer at the same time. Another important aspect to consider is the follow-up of a customer’s consumption. Those making the delivery should make sure that the previous meals have been eaten and, if not, they should take active measures to find out the reason why. They should also be given a contact whom to alert in case of trouble. With respect to nutrition, elderly people and delivery companies are encouraged to favor diverse, local and seasonal food. Meals should be adapted accordingly to mitigate the troubles that many elderly people experience with regard to food. For example, chewing difficulties can be reduced by chopping food, and more flavourful dressing can compensate for a loss in taste bud sensitivity.

For elderly people in specialized houses

At some point, elderly people can no longer stay at home and are cared for in specialized houses. The manner in which restaurants in specialized houses create their menus can have a great impact on their consumers’ desire to eat. Strict diets (except in cases of medical need) are not recommended because they are monotonous and therefore pose more of a risk for eventual malnutrition. Meals have to be well-planned, ideally up to four to six weeks in advance, in order to be sufficiently nutritionally balanced on a large scale. A classic nutrient balance is: 50 to 55% carbohydrates, 35 to 40% lipids and 12 to 15% proteins. Menus should be diverse, personalized and tasty. If possible, it is always a good idea to make sure that the patient links some meals with his or her personal history (meals and products from the patient’s region of origin for example).