Senior malnutrition is all too widespread, but caregivers who are alert to the signs of nutrition problems can help battle this sobering condition.
Malnutrition is not simply a lack of food. It is the failure to get proper nutrition. It affects the thin and the overweight, young people and adults—and, sadly, it is a pervasive problem among our nation’s elderly. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, in 2012 there were 3.7 million senior citizens who were diagnosed with malnutrition.
The consequences of malnourishment are serious, both physically and psychologically. It weakens the immune system, leading to slow healing and increased risk of infection, and it can cause muscle weakness, increasing the risk of falls and injuries. Read on to find out more about how senior malnutrition starts, how to recognize the signs, and what you can do to prevent it.
How Does Malnutrition Start?
According to the Mayo Clinic, malnutrition in seniors is usually caused by a combination of issues. Health or dental problems can lead to trouble eating or decreased appetite. Dietary restrictions that have been imposed to manage medical conditions can also make it difficult to get sufficient nutrition. Psychological issues such as isolation and depression contribute to loss of appetite and lack of interest in eating. Lastly, social factors like limited income or inadequate transportation can affect seniors’ access to food.
Monitoring Senior Nutrition
It can be difficult to detect malnutrition in older people, but caregivers are in a unique position to keep an eye out for the symptoms. Comfort Keepers has a helpful mnemonic for caregivers:
- Watch for physical problems. In particular, bruising, weight loss, and dental difficulties can be important signals.
- Ask seniors about their eating habits. Have their preferences changed?
- Talk to a doctor about your loved ones’ nutritional needs, and any physical or dental problems that might affect their eating.
- Check with a pharmacist. They can warn you of the potential for drug-food interactions, or side effects that affect appetite, digestion, or nutrient absorption.
- Have your visits during mealtime, and not just on special occasions, so you can observe eating habits firsthand.
5 Ways to Combat Malnutrition in Seniors
The Mayo Clinic suggests a number of ways caregivers can fight malnutrition in seniors:
- Encourage a nutritious and appealing diet. Chopped nuts, nut butters, wheat germ, egg whites, and cheese can be added to meals for an extra nutrient boost. Herbs and seasonings can help increase seniors’ enthusiasm for eating, too.
- Plan snacks for extra nutrients between meals.
- Make meals social events by visiting your loved ones at mealtime, or by encouraging them to eat with friends or at senior centers.
- Help seniors get regular exercise to stimulate the appetite and improve health.
- Provide tips and assistance with food savings. Seniors can split the cost of bulk goods with friends or family, and they can seek out restaurants that give senior discounts.
Of course, it’s always an option to arrange for in-home care to help monitor your loved ones’ nutrition. Have we missed any tips? Let us know in the comments!