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Detecting Hunger and Malnutrition in Seniors

Published: Sep 8, 2010

Malnutrition is the lack of proper nutrition, not necessarily a lack of food. Even seniors who eat enough may be eating the wrong foods to keep themselves healthy. Not all seniors with nutrition problems are thin — in some cases, malnutrition occurs in seniors who are overweight.

As many as 50 percent of seniors in the care of others may be under- or mal-nourished. Sometimes the signs are apparent, but in other cases, detecting malnutrition in older adults may be difficult. Comfort Keepers® can help other caregivers and family members be aware of malnutrition’s signs.

As part of the Comfort Keepers’ STOP Senior Hunger® initiative in the month of September, here are some ways you can  monitor the nutrition of seniors in your care:

• Watch for physical problems such as easy bruising and dental difficulties. Keep track of weight loss. This may require purchasing a home scale or transporting to the doctor’s office for weight checks when the individual is unable to stand without assistance.

• Pay close attention to seniors’ eating habits and ask them what and when they eat, but don’t rely on self-reports alone. Because Comfort Keepers often spend mealtimes with seniors at home, they may have a better idea of normal eating habits.

• Suggest family members visit during mealtimes, which can improve a senior’s consumption. If seniors live alone, make sure you know who is buying their food.

• Know what medications an older loved one takes, and how they can affect appetite and digestion. Watch for changes in appetite and eating habits if medications change. Many commonly-prescribed medications can reduce hunger and prevent nutrient absorption. Use the resources available to you through your doctor or local retail pharmacist to check for drug nutrient interactions or possible side effects of prescribed medications.

• If there are medical questions regarding nutrition, medication and health, Comfort Keepers suggests seniors, their family members and other caregivers speak with doctors about tests to identify chronic malnutrition or other nutrition-related problems.

Note: Seniors, their family members and other caregivers should speak with their doctors about managing their nutrition.

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