Blog - 12.01.2020
Preventive nutrition for senior citizens
The senior citizens market is growing strongly in all sectors. A McKinsey study1 indicates that 60% of the increase in consumption by 2030 would be driven by senior citizens aged 60 and over. The health and nutrition segment is not immune to this trend. JLB DÉVELOPPEMENT also saw strong growth in senior nutrition and clinical nutrition projects in the Lactalis group.
In this article, read the interview with Pascal Vialaron, Scientific Development Director at JLB DÉVELOPPEMENT. In it, he addresses essential points to be aware of and offers practical advice to understand the development of a nutritional product for older members of the population.
Understanding the physiology of these members of the population is the cornerstone of the products targeted. What do you need to know?
Understanding the physiology of older members of the population is essential for being able to offer products that meet the very specific needs of these consumers to perfection.
There are significant differences between the physiology of a young retiree and a very elderly person. When developing your products, you will therefore need to consider what the precise target is in order to provide solutions that are relevant to their needs and adapted to their motivations. A young senior will be looking for nutritional products to stay in shape, whilst a care home resident will be dealing with malnutrition or texture issues.
As we age, our energy metabolism slows down and changes. Our cells become less sensitive to insulin, a phenomenon called insulin resistance. In addition, decreasing hormone levels after menopause make older women more prone to osteoporosis.
Over the years, oxidative stress increases. It can be the cause of various disorders (cellular ageing, autoimmune disease, etc.), which can nevertheless be prevented through preventive nutrition, particularly with the help of antioxidants such as polyphenols and an array of vitamins (A, C, E) and minerals (Zinc, Selenium).
You also have to understand that all of us experience a drop in brain performance over the years. This cognitive decline is particularly pronounced from the age of 60 onwards. It can develop into memory loss, senility, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Nowadays, this process can be slowed down by certain nutrients such as omega 3 DHA and nootropic ingredients.
Osteoporosis and osteopenia
Another age-related phenomenon is decreased muscle and bone mass. These are normal catabolic processes. Nevertheless, they are particularly pronounced in post-menopausal women. This is why it is important to prevent these catabolic phenomena very early on by means of a healthy lifestyle and preventive nutrition.
- Sarcopenia is a loss of muscle mass that can be slowed down by daily consumption of biological-grade proteins to the tune of approximately 1 g per day per kilogram of bodyweight.
- Loss of bone density, also called osteopenia, can be mitigated by a combined calcium and vitamin D intake to improve the former’s assimilation and fixing in bones.
Swallowing and digestive disorders
When developing food products for older members of the population, depending on the age of the consumer you will need to know about potential swallowing disorders, medical name dysphagia, and those relating to gastroesophageal reflux, and be aware that their prevalence increases with age. Here, work on textures is an important lever for innovation and personalisation of the offer.
You also need to know that senior citizens are more prone to irritable bowel syndrome, slow bowel movement and lower intestinal comfort. This is an interesting avenue for developing products and adapting formulas, particularly in terms of choice of fibre.
Malnutrition and dehydration
You need to bear in mind that malnutrition and dehydration in older adults are important health risk factors. It is therefore important to provide them daily with food with good nutritional density, and that is appetising and tasty; bearing in mind that elderly people often experience diminished olfactory and sensory abilities that makes eating a less pleasurable experience for them, in addition to feeling less thirsty.
What are the challenges when developing a preventive nutrition product?
The aim is to meet all the physiological needs that we have just specified. Indeed, metabolic balance is fragile in seniors. This is why action must be taken through daily preventive nutrition. At the same time, it is imperative to avoid at all costs falling into the vicious circles of malnutrition, cognitive decline or immunodeficiency, which pave the way for other pathologies.
- malnutrition> fatigue + sarcopenia> falls> fracture> isolation
- cognitive decline > isolation > social contact breakdown > depression
- lower immunity > susceptibility to other diseases
What would be JLB DÉVELOPPEMENT’s practical advices for developing a product for seniors?
Good marketing positioning
Today, it is easier to target a senior product focused on curative measures rather than the preventive measures that target young senior citizens. The latter do not like to be stigmatised and categorised as “elderly”. For this category of consumers, it is better to position products in terms of “staying in shape”, “preserving your fitness capital”, “having the energy to enjoy life”.
Working on textures
To prevent taking the wrong turn and dysphagia, it is a good idea to opt for paste rather than liquid textures. To do this, formulations are thickened with technical starches which must be effective in both hot and cold products. Above all, they must dissolve well and thicken without forming lumps. These texturing starches can be used as an additive to food products and drinks (coffee, soup, orange juice, etc.).
Reduced olfactory and sensory ability among seniors must encourage brands to work hard on the flavour signature of products. Focus on long-lasting yet traditional flavours, such as coffee or caramel. Indeed, flavour fashions should not be followed as regards seniors. It is better to focus on “safe”, reassuring and familiar flavours.
Optimising the formulation
Groups of ingredients are used depending on physiological effects and food functionality. For this, you need to prioritise identifying their fields of application (joints, anti-inflammatory, intestinal well-being, etc.).
After that, it is a question of putting together the formula with nutrients or active ingredients that demonstrate proven action for this application. For example, for a “sarcopenia” positioning, a combination of proteins, calcium and vitamins D is included in the formula.
Our customers often ask us for a mix of applications for a formula, with a priority application covering 60% of the formulation and a secondary application offering a supporting promise. Thus in the previous example, for an anti-sarcopenia product, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories (DHA, OMEGA) could be added.
Choosing the format and Galenic presentation
The choice of format or Galenic presentation is essential when designing products for seniors. Product format must be considered from a functional and ease-of-use point of view: it must be able to be prepared quickly. Effectively, to facilitate the administration and swallowing of dietary supplements, easy-to-use formats such as liquid shots, single doses or sachets are recommended. In addition, prioritise hard and soft capsules over tablets, which moreover resemble medication.