Older adults need to eat more protein-rich foods when they’re trying to lose weight, dealing with a chronic or acute illness, or facing a hospitalization, according to a growing consensus among scientists.
During these stressful periods, aging bodies process protein less efficiently and need more of it to maintain muscle mass and strength, bone health and other essential physiological functions.
Even healthy seniors need more protein than when they were younger to help preserve muscle mass, experts suggest. Yet up to one-third of older adults don’t eat an adequate amount due to reduced appetite, dental issues, impaired taste, swallowing problems and limited financial resources. Combined with a tendency to become more sedentary, this puts them at risk of deteriorating muscles, compromised mobility, slower recovery from bouts of illness and the loss of independence.
Impact on functioning. Recent research suggests that older adults who consume more protein are less likely to lose “functioning”: the ability to dress themselves, get out of bed, walk up a flight of stairs and more. In a 2018 study that followed more than 2,900 seniors over 23 years, researchers found that those who ate the most protein were 30 percent less likely to become functionally impaired than those who ate the least amount.