Getting old, as the bumper-sticker says, isn’t for wimps. And today’s savvy seniors, all too aware of this fact, are doing everything they can to smooth the aging process—from watching their diets and prioritizing exercise to meditating, staying socially engaged and, of course, taking dietary supplements.
So it’s a poignant irony that some of the same supplements that seniors hope will make aging easier to take are…hard for seniors to take, literally: hard to swallow, to keep down, to fit into their already-impacted healthcare routines.
Readers, don’t our seniors deserve better? And can’t we give it to them?
We’d certainly better try, because the senior demographic isn’t going away. According to the 2017 revision to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs World Population Prospects, 12% of the globe’s inhabitants is over 60—a percentage the organization expects to more than double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100, from 962 million in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050 and 3.1 billion in 2100.1
And 2050 isn’t that far off. So with more of the globe going grey, says David Tetzlaf, senior marketing manager, Evolva (Reinach, Switzerland), “that makes it essential for manufacturers to design products that can improve the quality of life for this growing demographic.”
Serious about Supplementation
Setting aside any looming “silver bomb,” seniors already represent a valuable—and loyal—audience for dietary supplements. Tetzlaf cites GlobalData’s 2016 Global Consumer Survey as showing that 93% of Americans aged 65 and older have taken a supplement in the past 12 months. “This is quite a high percentage of the population looking for solutions to common issues around aging and shouldn’t be ignored,” he notes.
Among those issues are evergreen concerns about bone, heart, and joint health, as well as the need to close nutrient gaps and maintain overall health. Indeed, the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (Washington, DC) 2018 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements found that among consumers in the 55-plus demographic, 31% cited bone health as their top reason for taking supplements, 29% pointed to heart health, and 23% were aiming at joint health. As for healthy aging itself, that was the top motivator for 28% of the survey’s older respondents.2
Yet not only are today’s seniors devoted supplement consumers; they’re reliable ones, as well. “Generally speaking,” says Eugene Ung, CEO, Best Formulations (City of Industry, CA), “they tend to be more disciplined users—higher compliance—and tend to be more brand loyal as opposed to users in other age groups.”
Hard to Take
So given their loyalty, industry can count on seniors’ patronage come what may, right? Hardly. For despite their documented dedication to dietary supplements, seniors don’t necessarily get a kick out of taking them. And they’ve been telling us about it.
“Some of their primary complaints are about having to take too many supplements, unpleasant taste, discomfort, burping, and digestion issues—basically, that taking large doses of tablets and powdered supplements on a regular basis is challenging for seniors,” says Jayesh Chaudhari, MBA, MS, CNS, senior director, R&D, Prinova Solutions (Carol Stream, IL).
Taste can be especially off-putting, he says, with most vitamins and minerals exhibiting a “vitamin-y” or metallic, bitter off note. “Botanicals impart earthy and bitter side notes, depending on the load,” he adds. “Though most omega-3 supplements are flavored, their inherently fishy notes remain pronounced and cause burping. And supplements containing higher loads of plant proteins may not be as readily digestible as animal proteins like collagen and dairy proteins like whey.”
Burden to Bear
Then there’s the phenomenon of pill burden, or fatigue. Given that seniors frequently face a battalion of prescription medications already, adding dietary supplements to their ranks “can overwhelm anyone and trigger pill fatigue,” says Tetzlaf.
“Likewise,” he continues, “keeping track of the latest ingredients that improve quality of life while simultaneously looking at potential negative interactions can also be overwhelming. Therefore, seniors often must conduct a lot of research to understand which ingredients are beneficial, and this process itself can lead to stress and cause seniors to give up.” Yikes.
Packing all those nutrients into one pill would be one way to simplify seniors’ supplementation regimen considerably. But, says Chaudhari, “Consolidating nutritional ingredients into one pill would still result in a large pill. Such a large pill size wouldn’t appeal to seniors. Besides, there’s no one pill that fits all.”
What’s more, adds Ung, “There’s still a general sense of great compliance with pills as opposed to other delivery methods, partly because if you’re taking prescription medication as a necessity, you have a routine that dietary supplement pills can integrate into, whereas other dosage formats, such as powders, gummies, etc., are hard to integrate into a compliant pill routine.” And that doesn’t even address the challenge of masking off tastes or ensuring effective dose levels that can complicate alternative formulations.
Helping Seniors Take Control
Nevertheless, alternatives to pills are gaining traction—and brands are instituting other changes that both address seniors’ concerns and accommodate their needs.
“We’ve seen a lot of innovation in new delivery forms,” says Tetzlaf. “Pill burden is a real phenomenon and the industry is responding by developing more functional foods, gummies, melt-in-the-mouth strips, flavor packs, and powdered beverages that allow seniors to take control of how they consume their supplements.”
Chaudhari adds that “densely packed meal replacement drinks and liquid supplement shots are also expected to continue to appeal to consumers. These offer not only the ease of convenience but better sensory profiles and a better overall experience, as well. And both alleviate the need to take multiple pills.”
To address the dysphagia that makes swallowing more difficult for older consumers, some manufacturers have simply developed smaller pills, which Ung says do require more potent ingredients, as well as formulations that enhance absorption “and other modifications to achieve an efficacious product in a physically smaller dose.” For example, a highly concentrated fish oil that allows a smaller softgel to deliver the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids “will help with compliance,” he says.
As Chaudhari concludes, “Supplement companies understand the concepts of pill burden and dysphasia in elderly consumers.” And armed with that understanding, “They’re continuously making progress to ease supplement delivery to consumers.”
Read on for a look at some strategies supplement brands are taking to help seniors stay strong.