10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Nutrition and Healthy Aging
Good nutrition is the cornerstone of preventive health and healthy aging. Yet as we age, dietary requirements change. Our caloric needs typically decrease. At the same time, we may need more of certain key nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.
Getting proper nutrition often becomes harder with age because of problems such as loss of appetite or difficulties chewing or swallowing food. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about nutrition. Here are questions you may want to ask:
When Nancy Levitt's mother was first diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago at age 78, the doctor told her she could safely drive to familiar places. But Levitt, 61, who volunteers at UCLA's Center on Aging in Los Angeles, was still nervous. Unexplained nicks and dents started appearing on her mother's car. She forgot where she parked. Levitt tried to discuss driving safety with her mother, but she angrily denied there was a problem. Then, she would forget their talks about driving altogether.
How do I know if I’m getting all the nutrition I need?
Surveys show that many Americans, and especially older Americans, aren’t getting all the nutrition they need for optimal health.
Surprisingly, even many people who are overweight fall short on vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Sure, they get plenty of calories, but those calories may have little nutritional value. Unfortunately, chronic nutrient deficiencies may occur before any symptoms show up.
Early signs of vitamin or mineral deficiencies may include unusual fatigue, brittle hair or loss of hair, skin rashes or sores that don’t heal, cracks at the corners of the mouth, and a pale tongue. A physical examination may help alert your health care provider to nutritional deficiencies. Blood tests are also used to uncover deficiencies of some key nutrients, such as iron or vitamin D.
Do any of the medications I use affect my appetite or how food tastes?
A range of medications, including many commonly used by older adults, can interfere with good nutrition.
Some pain relievers and arthritis medications irritate the stomach, for example. Certain antibiotics, stool softeners, and chemotherapy drugs can affect our taste for food. Antidepressants, diuretics, pain medications and some heart drugs, can suppress appetite.
Do any of the treatments I’m taking get in the way of absorbing nutrients I need?
A variety of treatments can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. These include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and medications.
I’m not very hungry when I know it’s time to eat. Is that normal for someone my age?
There are many reasons why older adults often don’t have a powerful appetite. Because they are usually less active than younger people, their bodies require fewer calories. And, declining sensitivity of taste buds may mean that food just doesn’t have as much appeal as it once did.
However, significant loss of appetite or weight loss can also be a sign of depression or other serious health problems. Tell your doctor if you notice a change in your appetite or unintended weight loss.
Should I consider taking a multivitamin?
Experts still disagree about whether older Americans should be routinely counseled to take a multivitamin. Most nutritionists agree that the best way to get your nutrients is from food, not pills.
But if you have trouble eating a varied diet of nutrient-rich foods, ask your doctor whether you should take a multivitamin. Be sure to alert your doctor to any and all pills you take, including supplements you buy at the health food store.