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Seniors and Malnutrition
As we age, our bodies require fewer calories, yet we require more protein, calcium, B vitamins, and other nutrients. Unfortunately, there remains a surprising lack awareness about the specific dietary needs of seniors and how nutrition plays a key role in their well-being and longevity.
Seniors are particularly susceptible to malnutrition, because not only do they have different nutritional needs than younger adults, they also take more medications, and have higher rates of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. They also may be experiencing a change in their taste buds, a lack of appetite, or depression – or may just have trouble getting used to new nutritional needs after decades of employing certain eating habits.
9 Ways You Can Help a Senior Get the Proper Nutrition
Remember, identifying and treating nutrition issues early can promote good health, senior independence, and increased longevity. Take steps now to ensure your loved one's nutrition.
- Talk to the senior’s doctors. If a senior is losing weight, work with his or her doctors to identify and address contributing factors. Changing medications that affect appetite, curbing or eliminating any diet restrictions until the nutritional problem passes, and working with a dentist to treat oral problems can help. Ask for screenings for nutrition problems during routine office visits, and inquire about nutritional supplements. You might also request a referral to a registered dietitian.
- Encourage him or her to eat nutritious foods. Spread peanut or other healthy spreads on toast and crackers, fresh fruits, and raw vegetables. Sprinkle finely chopped nuts or wheat germ on yogurt, fruit, and cereal. Add extra egg whites to scrambled eggs and omelets, and encourage use of whole milk. Add cheese to sandwiches, vegetables, soups, rice, and noodles.
- Liven up bland foods. Add lemon juice, herbs, and spices to foods. If the senior is experiencing a loss of taste and smell, try some new seasonings and recipes.
- Encourage healthy snacks. A piece of fruit or cheese, peanut butter by itself or as a spread, or a fruit smoothie can provide healthy nutrients and extra calories.
- Make meals social events. Visit at mealtimes, or invite seniors for dinner at your home or out at a restaurant. Encourage seniors to join programs and senior centers where they can dine with others.
- Make sure seniors get regular physical activity. Even light daily exercise can stimulate appetite, while strengthening bones and muscles.
- Provide tips for saving money. Persuade seniors to have a shopping list at the store, check store flyers for sales, and select less expensive brands. Suggest splitting the cost of bulk goods or meals with friends or family members, and dining at restaurants with senior discounts.
- Boost hydration for overall good health. Seniors should get at least 64 ounces of healthy fluids per day.
- Consider outside help. If necessary, hire a caregiver to shop for groceries or prepare meals. Consider Meals on Wheels and other community services. Your local Area Agency on Aging or a county social worker also might be helpful.
The following are typical reasons for senior malnutrition:
- Lack of interest in cooking
- Living alone and eating for one
- Changing taste buds
- Medication side-effects that suppress appetite or create bitter tastes
- Restricted diets such as low sodium or low fat diets
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble eating, due to sore gums
- or poor dental health
- Limited income to buy nutritious food
- Paying for expensive medications
- instead of food
- Lack of mobility to get to the store
If you suspect senior malnutrition, watch for these signs:
- Excessive or prolonged sadness
- Lack of energy
- Memory issues or oncoming dementia
- Getting sick often
- Bruised or dry, cracked skin
- Wounds that are slow to heal
- Out-of-date food in the fridge
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Loose-fitting clothes
- Muscle weakness
Comfort Keepers® can help. Our caregivers can watch for the signs of malnutrition and help plan and prepare healthy meals for loved ones. They will also take note of the senior’s overall health, see that they take medications, help them follow dietary guidelines, and perform daily tasks around the home. Call your local office today to discover all of our available services.
Mayo Clinic. Senior Health: How to Prevent and Detect Malnutrition. Web. 2014.
Today's Dietitian. “Malnutrition in Older Adults” by Kris M. Mogensen, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, and Rose Ann DiMaria-Ghalili, PhD, RN, CNSC, FASPEN. Web. 2015.
A Place for Mom. How to Prevent Senior Malnutrition. Web. 2016.