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Food preferences in older adults and seniors

Food preferences in older adults and seniors takes into consideration how people's experiences change with aging; that is, including conditions like taste, diet (nutrition) and food choice. Primarily, this occurs when most people approach the age of 65 or older. Influencing variables can include: social and cultural environment; male or female sex; personal habits; as well as physical and mental health. Scientific studies explain why people like or dislike certain foods.

Science of food preferences

There is a lot of work and scientific research that goes into examining the variables that cause the elderly to change food preferences. An example of these studies would be an experiment that the Elderly Nutrition Program (ENP) was executing. To improve the quality of meal programs, the ENP explored how food preferences varied depending on biological sex and ethnic groups. A total of 2,024 participants in the ENP aged 60 years or older were interviewed. A majority of the participants were female, served by congregate meal programs, or meals served in community settings such as senior centers, churches or senior housing communities.

A general impression of the meals and preferences for 13 food groups (fresh fruit, chicken, soup, salad, vegetables, potatoes, meat, sandwiches, pasta, canned fruit, legumes, deli meats, and ethnic foods) were assessed. After adjusting other variables, older males were significantly more likely to prefer deli meats, meat, legumes, canned fruit, and ethnic foods compared to females. In addition, compared with African Americans, “Caucasians demonstrated higher percentages of preference for 9 of 13 food groups including pasta, meat, and fresh fruit.

To improve the quality of the ENP, and to increase dietary compliance of the older adults to the programs, the nutritional services require a strategic meal plan that solicits and incorporates older adults’ food preferences”.[2]

Influences on food preference

There are multiple parts of an elderly person’s life that can affect their preferences in foods. Aspects like the environment, mental & physical health, and lifestyle choices are all contributing to the way a person decides on what foods they happen to like or dislike.

An article about Influences On Cognitive Function In Older Adults (Neuropsychology, November 2014) states that “the nutritional status of older adults relates to their quality of life, ability to live independently, and their risk for developing costly chronic illnesses. An aging adult’s nutritional well-being can be affected by multiple socio-environmental factors, including access to healthy and affordable foods, congregate meal sites, and nutritious selections at restaurants. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Society for Nutrition, and the Society for Nutrition Education have identified an older adult’s access to a balanced diet to be critical for the prevention of disease and promotion of nutritional wellness so that quality of life and independence can be maintained throughout the aging process and excessive health care costs can be reduced”.[3] Someone’s surroundings and health can affect what foods they chose and prefer to eat.

By age: younger and older adults

As people get older, their bodies change. This includes their taste buds, their needs of certain vitamins and nutrients, and their desire for different types of food. In a study by the Monell Chemical Senses Center, fifty young-adults and forty-eight elderly subjects participated in the study. Young subjects ranged from eighteen to thirty-five years of age and elderly subjects were sixty-five years of age or older. There were more females than males in the study, but there were approximately equal proportions of males and females in the two age groups.

The study observed that younger females had stronger cravings for sweets than elderly females. They related this difference in preference with the younger female test subject’s menstrual cycles and the fact that elderly women no longer go through menopause. Also the study determined that “ninety-one percent of the cycle-associated cravings were said to occur in the second half of the cycle (between ovulation and the start of menstruation)”[4]

By biological sex: elderly male and female

File:Couple eating lunch.jpg
Elderly couple eating lunch together

Not only are there differences in food preferences between ages, but in biological sex as well. In a study conducted by the Elderly Nutrition Program (ENP), they discovered preferences of male and female subjects throughout 13 individual food groups (fresh fruit, chicken, soup, salad, vegetables, potatoes, meat, sandwiches, pasta, canned fruit, legumes, deli meats, and ethnic groups).

Through this study, it was apparent that older males “were significantly more likely to prefer deli meats, meat, legumes, canned fruit, and ethnic foods compared to females”.[2]

Another study by the Monell Chemical Senses Center concluded that females had significantly more cravings for sweets and for chocolate than males; and the study results confirmed that males had more cravings or preferences for entrees than sweets.[4]

By Personal Health

Physical health

With age, some people tend to avoid food and are unwilling to modify their diets due to oral health problems. These oral health problems, like dentures (false teeth) not fitting properly or gum disease, are associated with significant differences in dietary quality, which is the a measure of the quality of the diet using a total of eight recommendations regarding the consumption of foods and nutrients from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Approaches to minimize food avoidance and promote changes to the diets of people that have eating difficulties due to oral health conditions are needed desperately because without being able to chew or take in food properly, their health is effected drastically and their food preferences are limited greatly (to soft or liquids only).[5]

Mental health

As a result of certain mental health conditions and/or diseases — like Alzheimer’s — a person's food preferences might become affected. With certain diseases, people tend to develop specific preferences or distaste for various types of food. For example, people with Alzheimer’s (which is the most common form of dementia),[6] experience many big and small changes as a result of their symptoms.[7] One change identified by Suszynski in “How Dementia Tampers With Taste Buds” is a dementia patient’s taste buds, which contain the receptors for taste. Since they don’t experience flavor the way they once did, people with dementia often change their eating habits and take on entirely new food preferences. In this study, the researchers found that these dementia patients had trouble identifying flavors and appeared to have lost the ability to remember tastes; therefore, leading to a theory that dementia caused the patients to lose their knowledge of flavors. That, in turn, can lead to changes in eating behaviors.[7]

By lifestyle choices

Elderly people have a lifestyle choice to eat healthy due to their increasing age, or let go of their healthy lifestyles due to their lifespan; whereas, this kind of mindset causes them to let go of their concerns or cares about their health. This topic is based less on scientific tendencies of human beings, but more about the choice that an elderly person can make. They can choose whether or not they want to make a change. A study showed this choice in restaurants that effect elderly people positively. The study showed that the impact of lifestyle of health and sustainability on healthy food choices is much stronger for senior diners than for non-senior diners in restaurants.[8] Whether or not all of these variables apply to a single person, it is clear that there are many cases identifying that there are changes in the preferences (likes and dislikes) that we (as people) have in food choices with the progression of age.

By social environment and conditioning

In this way, the environment can greatly impact food preferences of older adults who have limited mobility and rely on others for food shopping and preparation. Homebound seniors tend to receive one meal per day (several fresh and frozen meals may be included in a single delivery) by communities that offer congregate meals, or meals served in community settings such as senior centers, churches or senior housing communities.[9] These congregate meal programs are encouraged to offer these elderly people a meal at least five times per week. Specifically, there is a difference between rural areas compared to urban areas and the access that they have to certain food and the qualities of these foods.

See also

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  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Song, Hee-Jung; Simon, Judy R.; Patel, Dhruti U (March 21, 2014). "Food Preferences of Older Adults in Senior Nutrition Programs". Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology & Geriatrics: 55. 
  3. ^ Brewster, Paul W.H.; Melrose, Rebecca J.; Marquine, Maria J.; Johnson, Julene K.; Napoles, Anna; Mac-Kay-Brant, Anna; Farias, Sarah; Reed, Bruce; Mungas, Dan (2014). "Life Experience And Demographic Influences On Cognitive Function In Older Adults". Neuropsychology 28 (6): 846–858. PMC 4227962. PMID 24933483. doi:10.1037/neu0000098. 
  4. ^ a b Pelchat, Marcia Levin (1997). "Food Cravings In Young and Elderly Adults". Appetite 28 (2): 103–113. PMID 9158846. doi:10.1006/appe.1996.0063. 
  5. ^ Savoca, MR; Arcury, TA; Leng, X; Chen, H; Bell, RA; Anderson, AM; Kohrman, T; Gilbert, GH; Quandt, SA (2010). "Association Between Dietary Quality of Rural Older Adults and Self- Reported Food Avoidance and Food Modification Due to Oral Health Problems". Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: 1225–1232. 
  6. ^ "Alzheimer's Disease". Wikipedia. Retrieved November 5, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Suszynski, Marie. "How Dementia Tampers With Taste Buds". Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  8. ^ Kim, Myung-Ja; Lee, Choong-Ki; Kim, Woo Gon; Kim, Jong-Man (2013). "Relationships Between Lifestyle Of Health And Sustainability And Healthy Food Choices For Seniors". International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management: 558–576. 
  9. ^ "Congregate Meals". Maryland Health Care Commission. Retrieved November 6, 2014.