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The elderly need more nutritious food

Malnutrition is a growing problem among the elderly and one of the causes is difficulty in chewing and swallowing. RISE is developing new foods to meet the needs of the elderly.

The longer we live, the greater the risk that we will suffer from malnutrition. It is therefore of particular importance that we develop foods that are specifically adapted to older people.

“Among other things, the elderly require twice as much protein as well as more vitamin D than younger people if they are to avoid losing muscle mass and becoming frail,” explains Mats Stading, head of the agriculture and foodstuffs section at RISE.”

The problem of malnourishment in the elderly, or geriatric anorexia, is due to a diet lacking in sufficient amounts of important nutrients. Possible reasons for this include loss of appetite and underlying disease, although it may also quite simply be a result of problems with chewing and swallowing. Malnourishment leads to weight loss, fragility and loss of muscle mass; a negative spiral that leads to problems such as falls and human suffering.

RISE, together with a team of Japanese researchers, is now developing a timbal diet. While resembling ordinary food in appearance, timbal food has the consistency of a firm omelette. Timbal foods are already available as an alternative on the market and RISE is developing the concept in collaboration with Findus Special Foods.

“A timbal diet is served to elderly residents in many care homes and by social services, and what we are doing now is to develop the diet to give it more flavour and make it easier to swallow. The elderly often suffer from a deteriorating sense of both taste and smell,” explains Mats Stading.

Care costs related to malnourishment in the elderly are estimated at SEK 9 billion annually and this project can contribute to reducing these costs so that this money can be spent elsewhere.

“Today, the majority of these patients are cared for at home as this is cheaper. If the resources were available, it would be possible to invest more money in hospital beds instead,” says Mats Stading, although he also points out that it is not solely a matter of reducing costs.

“It is equally a matter of quality of life. Many elderly people do not look forward to meal times but if their food tastes better and is more appealing, I hope that they will begin to do so and will be able to remain healthy and active for longer!”