Nutritional Drinks for the Elderly: What to know

No one wants to think about getting older, and we certainly don’t want to think about the health risks and challenges we might face as we age. For some of us (myself included) keeping ourselves healthy now isn’t just about appearance, weight or our ability to walk up steep hills as a person in their thirties, it’s also about giving our future old-selves the best chance at a somewhat graceful old age.

Now, I don’t want you to think I’m scaremongering, because I’m not, but the facts are that humans, thanks to modern science and technology, are living much longer than we used to. This causes issues all of its own, from dental wear and tear to our bodies losing the ability to produce certain hormones and maintain specific functions, so it becomes important that we continue to provide our bodies with the nutrients we need to keep us functional. 

And it’s not just us. If you’re a person who looks after their physical form and wellbeing, it is likely important to you that those people around you are cared for in a similar fashion. As preceding generations age, our parents and grandparents for example, we want to make sure that they are remaining healthy too. Alongside a healthy, balanced diet and regular gentle exercise, elderly people might also benefit from a nutritional supplement drink to provide extra nutrients, vitamins, minerals and calories for a healthier retirement. 

What are the benefits of nutritional drinks for the elderly? 

Being underweight as an older person can have some serious complications, such as increasing bone fragility and heightening the risk of bone fractures. It can also weaken your immune system, making it easier for you to fall unwell as you get older. Nutritional drinks can benefit older people and help them to manage their weight. Even if weight management isn’t a factor in using nutritional drinks, elderly people are often at risk of becoming deficient in certain key nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and calcium, which can cause further health risks. These risks can be offset by supplementing with nutritional drinks. 

As we age, the mobility and strength in our hands can diminish. Nutritional drinks are easy to consume without the need for finer motor skills. If these drinks are pre-made, they can also be easier to open for older people who are on their own. 

Not only that, they’re easier to swallow than whole foods. A condition called dysphagia affects at least 15% of elderly people. Dysphagia affects our ability to swallow, and can make eating difficult. Meal replacement shakes are a good way to boost calories and nutrients for those who find other foods tough. Another effect of aging is an overall loss of appetite. Older people tend towards smaller portions as they age, and may not be getting the right amount of calories to stay healthy. A nutritional drink can help an elderly person get much needed calories, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients without feeling the need to eat a larger meal. 

Are there any potential issues with nutritional drinks for seniors? 

As with any supplementation or major dietary change, there are ways in which the body can be affected. Many nutritional drinks can contain high levels of sugar and artificial ingredients, including sweeteners, which can cause blood sugar spikes and dental issues if over consumed. Choosing a nutritional drink with high quality natural ingredients, such as WHOLE vegan meal replacement, can prevent this, whilst still providing 22 essential vitamins and minerals. 

Due to the lower calories in some drinks, they can often feel less filling than a whole foods meal. Whilst this works in favour of those elderly people who have smaller appetites, others may find that having a shake instead of a meal can leave them feeling hungry. This, along with the good taste and the ease of use, could lead to overconsumption, leading to unwanted weight for some. 

Another consideration needs to be focused towards the ingredients themselves. With the likelihood of lactose intolerance increasing with age, it is possible that a plant-based nutritional drink would be more appropriate, or you might need to ensure the product you choose is gluten free. Ensuring that the ingredients are suitable is a good place to begin when choosing a nutritional drink. However, if there are any concerns over intolerances and allergies, then it is always best to seek the advice of a medical professional. 

What to look for in nutritional drinks and supplements for older people:

1. Consider the needs of the person the drink or supplement is for

Someone who is looking to gain or maintain their weight should be looking for higher calorie nutritional drinks, for example. Are these drinks being used as a booster (either for calories or nutrition), or as a meal replacement for those who have difficulty with solid foods? There is no one size fits all to protein, calorie and nutrient requirements: each body is different and our needs change with age and circumstance, so it is unlikely that there will be a nutritional drink for older people which fits every criteria for every person. 

2. Ensure there’s enough protein

As we age, our muscle mass decreases, and we find ourselves in need of extra protein to replace and repair the muscle we have. Ensuring that there is an adequate amount of protein is important, and you can read our guide on meeting your protein requirements here

3. Are the additional vitamins and minerals appropriate?

We have already mentioned taking allergies and intolerances into consideration when choosing a nutritional drink, and also the potential negative effects of too much sugar or artificial ingredients. We also need to understand the ways in which the added essential vitamins and minerals can interact with an elderly person, and how this is different from someone younger. We should understand, for example, that older people tend to have more of a need for prescription medication, some of which can be affected by certain nutrients. An excess of Vitamin K, for example, can reduce the efficacy of certain types of blood thinners. As ever, taking on a new aspect of your diet when on certain medications should always be okayed by a medical professional.

Using a nutritional drink, meal replacement shake or supplement as a foundation for nutritional health is a great idea, especially for those who may have trouble with their diet as they get older. However, it is also important to recognise that whole foods are not a redundant form of nutrition, and should still be included in a healthy balanced diet, not replaced entirely by nutritional drinks.