(BPT) – Americans are now living longer than ever before. In fact, one of the fastest growing segments is people over the age of 85 who will represent 20 percent of the population by the year 2040. Because we are living longer, certain conditions specific to seniors are also on a steady rise. Dehydration, falls, fractures, cognition loss and attention deficits are now becoming more commonplace.
In a recent paper titled “Salt Appetite Across Generations” presented at a medical conference in Switzerland, Israeli researchers from the University of Haifa indicated that among seniors, a reduced sense of thirst could increase the risk of serious dehydration. They also noted that the appetite for salt does not diminish with age, and suggested that this could be used to help sustain hydration and prevent the dangerous symptoms that result from dehydration.
Another study published in the American Journal of Hypertension identified significant risks to cardiovascular health and longevity from consuming less than 1, or more than 3 teaspoons of salt per day. Fortunately, most Americans, including seniors, when left to their own choice, consume right in the middle of this range.
Seniors in assisted living centers can be especially susceptible to the dangers of low-salt diets. In 2013 a task force of 12 professional medical, nursing and nutritional organizations assembled by the Pioneer Network published the “New Dining Practice Standards.” Their report concluded that low-salt diets were contributing to malnutrition and weight loss among a significant percentage of seniors in assisted living facilities.
Low-salt diets can also cause seniors to suffer from mild hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance in the blood that may not sound bad but can lead directly to walking impairment, attention deficits and a much higher frequency of falls. Several recent medical papers found a direct relationship between hyponatremia and unsteadiness, falls, bone fractures and attention deficits.
Falls are one of the most serious problems for the elderly and about a third of people over 65 fall at least once every year. Fall-related injuries in the elderly are associated with numerous psychological and physical consequences and are a leading cause of bone breakage and hip fractures, which can lead to complications and permanent disability or death. Some seniors do need a low-salt diet but many do not, and would not benefit from such a diet.