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The Mayo Clinic (www.mayo.org) states that in addition to financial limitations, physical, social and psychological factors contribute to senior hunger or malnutrition, impeding seniors' ability to maintain a diet that provides the necessary balance of nutrients for healthful living.
Below are 10 main contributing causes of senior malnutrition:
- Debilitating conditions that limit seniors ability to get out to shop, prepare meals and feed themselves
- Fixed incomes can prevent seniors from being able to purchase the groceries they need to stay nourished.
- Difficulty chewing and swallowing as a result of diseases such as Parkinsons, dry mouth caused by some medications, dental conditions and poorly fitting dentures
- Frailty due to loss of muscle mass and fat, which can alter body chemistry, diminishing appetite, especially in seniors with serious illnesses
- Medications, such as some antidepressants, blood pressure and osteoporosis drugs, that diminish appetite, alter the flavor of foods and interfere with absorption of nutrients
- Reduced absorption of nutrients as a result of some physiological changes due to aging. For instance, in many seniors reduced production of digestive enzymes and acids interferes with breakdown of protein and absorption of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B-12, folate, calcium and iron. Some illnesses, such as gastrointestinal cancers, diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease, can also cause this problem.
- Diminished sense of taste or smell that often occurs with aging. Some medications and illnesses accelerate or intensify this loss, depriving seniors of some of the pleasure associated with eating. This can affect appetite. Bland, medically-prescribed diets can have the same effect. Natural flavor enhancers, like garlic, onions and spices, can help counteract this.
- Dementia, which often prevents individuals from recognizing the need to eat. Some persons with dementia need to be reminded to swallow.
- Depression, due to multiple causes such as grief, loneliness, retirement, poor health, and medications. Depression affects about 6 million American seniors.
- Alcoholism, which is often a hidden problem in the senior population, decreases appetite, destroys nutrients and negatively affects seniors ability to care for themselves