Washington D.C. - Consumption of more protein-based foods could contribute to helping older people to delay disability, according to a study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society.
To live successfully and independently, older adults need to be able to manage two different levels of life skills: basic daily care and basic housekeeping activities. Basic daily care includes feeding yourself, bathing, dressing, and going to the toilet on your own. You also need to handle basic housekeeping activities, such as managing your finances and having the mobility to shop and participate in social activities.
If someone has trouble performing these two types of life skills, this may bring on problems that can reduce the quality of life and independence. People aged 85 and above are at higher risk for becoming less able to perform these life skills.
Protein is known to slow the loss of muscle mass. Having enough muscle mass can help preserve the ability to perform daily activities and prevent disability. Older adults tend to have a lower protein intake than younger adults due to poorer health, reduced physical activity, and changes in the mouth and teeth.
The research team used data from the Newcastle 85+ Study conducted in the United Kingdom (UK). This study's researchers approached all people turning 85 in 2006 in two cities in the UK for participation. At the beginning of the study in 2006-2007, there were 722 participants, 60 percent of whom were women.
The participants provided researchers with information about what they ate every day, their body weight and height measurements, their overall health assessment (including any level of disability), and their medical records.
The researchers learned that more than one-quarter (28 per cent) of very old adults in North-East England had protein intakes below the recommended dietary allowance. The researchers noted that older adults who have more chronic health conditions may also have different protein requirements.
To learn more about the health benefits of adequate protein intake in older adults, the researchers examined the impact of protein intake on the increase of disability over five years.
The researchers' theory was that eating more protein would be associated with slower disability development in very old adults, depending on their muscle mass and muscle strength.
The results indicated that participants who ate more protein at the beginning of the study were less likely to become disabled when compared to people who ate less protein.
"Our findings support current thinking about increasing the recommended daily intake of protein to maintain active and healthy aging. Older adults should aim to eat about 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. For example, for a person who weighs 160 pounds, that would be about 58 grams of protein a day (a 3.5-ounce serving of chicken contains about 31 grams of protein)," said study author Dr. Nuno Mendonca.