The Importance of Good Nutrition and Hydration for the Elderly

Discover why maintaining good nutrition and hydration is essential for the elderly, with tips for promoting better habits and the signs you should look for. 

Taking in nutrients and staying hydrated becomes more challenging as our bodies change. So, while the importance of good nutrition and hydration applies to us all, it’s particularly prevalent in those more vulnerable, such as the elderly.

Therefore, supporting the elderly with the right foods and liquids is integral for maintaining their health and well-being for as long as possible. Read on to find out more.

Why is Good Nutrition and Hydration Important for the Elderly?

Perhaps there’s no better indicator of ageing than our changing physical nature. From muscle loss, thinning skin, and reduced stomach acid, not only do our bodies change, but our lives change with it.

As we age, we tend to eat less and make different food choices. While on the surface this seems unclear, studies have shown that lower food intake in the elderly is associated with a lack of calcium, iron, and zinc alongside vitamins B and E. Furthermore, we eventually become less active and mobile. This condition affects our energy levels with the needs of different food groups.

Growing older sees our bodies reduce the effectiveness of nutritional intake. Although our less active lifestyles require fewer calories, we still require the same, if not more nutrition, as younger generations.

So, as daily volumes of foods and liquids decline as a function of ageing, physiological alterations can also take root simultaneously. Slow gastric functions, altered hormonal responses, decreased basal metabolic rates and altered tastes and smell all cause nutritional issues for the elderly.

Studies reveal that 5 to 20 people out of every 1,000 in the general population suffer from autoimmune gastritis. This condition causes chronic inflammation that damages the cells we need to produce stomach acid. Without stomach acid doing its job of breaking down foods, we don’t absorb nutrients as effectively.

What Are the Signs of Poor Nutrition and Hydration in the Elderly?

Weight/Muscle Loss

We can identify weight loss with loose clothes, belts, jewellery and dentures alongside the general appearance of frailty with thin, gaunt features.

Specific signs of poor nutrition and hydration in the elderly include:

  • Prominent collarbones
  • Head temples appear hollowed out
  • Wasting muscles between fingers
  • Prominent knee bones
  • Wasted away calf muscles
  • Pressure ulcers


Gastrointestinal Symptoms

We can recognise poor nutrition or hydration across a range of gastrointestinal symptoms.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion/dyspepsia
  • Bloating


Food Intake

An obvious sign to watch out for is the general food intake. From losing appetites to missing meals and eating less than usual, poor nutrition and hydration will come directly through simply not consuming enough food and water.

As an in-house carer, pay close attention to food in the fridge and cupboards. Check to see if food goes rotting or is left untouched. Regarding mobility, we should also check whether our client can operate the microwave, cooker or stove effectively.

Fluid Intake

Similar to foods, what is the fluid intake like from our clients? Check for these signs and symptoms:

  • Drinking less than usual
  • Dry mouth, lips, eyes and skin
  • Strong smelling urine
  • Regular urine infections
  • Headaches or constipation
  • Dizziness



Not all signs or symptoms of poor nutrition and hydration are physical.

There are psychological effects revealed in the following states:

  • Mood changes such as depression or tiredness
  • Poor concentration, memory loss and easily distracted
  • Confusion


Poor Oral Health

Malnutrition and dehydration can become prevalent orally.

Look out for the following:

  • Tooth loss and decay
  • Loose dentures
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Sore or bleeding mouth or gums


Lack of Function

Further signs of poor nutrition and hydration are identifiable in the general loss of function. Any of these dysfunctional signs can indicate the symptoms of poor nutrition and hydration:

  • Feeling weak, tired and less energetic
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Trouble standing or getting out of chairs
  • Falls
  • Feeling cold while struggling to warm up


Inability to Obtain Sufficient Food

It’s not always that the elderly suffer from nutritional deficiencies physically through changes to the body. It can be the case that they’re simply unable to procure sufficient food or water. This issue might depend on the following factors:

  • Housebound/Bedbound
  • Insufficient income
  • Living alone
  • Physical or mental health issues

How Can You Promote Good Nutrition and Hydration in the Elderly?

The necessary nutrition and hydration can help the elderly control blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and lower the risk of further health complications.

Here are some tips to help you promote good nutrition in the elderly:

  • Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily.
  • Incorporate wholegrain starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta as the base for main meals.
  • Find dairy alternatives such as soya that are lower in fat and sugar.
  • Prioritise high-quality proteins like beans, pulses, fish (twice a week and opt for oily), eggs, and meat.
  • Opt for unsaturated oils and spreads in small amounts.
  • Reduce fat, salt and sugar.

With these in mind, here are some tips that promote good hydration in the elderly:

  • Drink six/eight glasses of water/fluid daily.
  • Encourage clients by providing fluids they enjoy.
  • Make water and other fluids available to drink at all times.
  • Add ice cubes and fruit slices to water, such as lemon, lime and orange, for a more refreshing flavour.
  • Provide a variety of hot and cold fluids.
  • Supply aids for drinking if needed, such as cups with handles.
  • Offer more water when clients take medication.
  • Incorporate more soups, tinned fruits, jelly, ice-lollies and yoghurts into their diet.

Promote the Importance of Good Nutrition and Hydration in Adult Social Care

Arguably, no work is as fulfilling as caring for the most vulnerable in our society. At Herefordshire Cares, we help enthusiastic, kind and caring individuals find their path in life with a career in care.

Whether finding your feet as a care assistant or excelling as a support worker, we have various opportunities on our vacancies page.

Take a browse at our opportunities today and get in touch if you have any questions