Older adults

Key points

  • In the UK, life expectancy has doubled over the last 200 years and now around 16% of the population is aged over 65 years.
  • General nutrient requirements and healthy eating guidelines apply to older people. However, energy requirements fall with advancing age due to a decrease in basal metabolic rate and often decreased levels of physical activity.
  • The ability to synthesise vitamin D by the skin decreases with age. Older people are therefore recommended to take a supplement containing 10μg of vitamin D daily as well as regularly eating food sources of the vitamin (for example oily fish and fortified breakfast cereals).
  • Some older people in the UK, especially those living in institutions, have been found to have low intakes and/or low blood levels of a range of micronutrients.
  • Good nutrition and regular physical activity play a protective role in a number of age-related conditions including cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline and can help to protect oral and dental health, and bone and joint health in later life.
  • Both malnutrition and obesity are prevalent in the older population. Malnutrition is more prevalent in older people living in institutions, whereas overweight and obesity are more prevalent in free-living adults.

An ageing population

In the UK, life expectancy has doubled over the last 200 years, and now around 10 million of the population is aged over 65 years (16% of the population). Within the older age group, even greater population growth has been seen among those aged 85 years and over.

Unfortunately, these extra years added to our lifespan are not necessarily ‘healthy’, and this has a detrimental impact on the quality of life of older people.

Energy requirements

For healthy people, energy requirements decrease with advancing age. This is due to changes in body composition; a decrease in lean body tissue (muscle) and an increase in fat tissue. This means that, for a given bodyweight, older people tend to have less muscle and more fat, leading to a fall in basal metabolic rate (BMR). Many people also become less active as they get older. In the UK (as in other countries) the estimated average requirement (EAR) of energy for older adults has been set at a lower level than for younger adults. See nutrient requirements.