16% of Americans 65+ consume fewer than 1000 calories per day — that means a whopping number of seniors are at high risk for undernutrition (Health and Nutrition Examination Survey).
As we age, our bodies begin needing fewer calories, and more protein, calcium, B vitamins, and other nutrients. Seniors are particularly susceptible to malnutrition because they have different dietary needs than younger adults and few people are aware of these differences.
The good news? You can take practical steps to keep your loved one from being a part of that frighteningly large group of malnourished seniors. People often assume that nutritional deficiencies are an inevitable consequence of aging and that intervention doesn’t make much of a difference.
Read on to learn how you can help your loved one get the nutrition they need.
Your Body Needs Nutrients
Malnutrition means that a person’s body is not getting the fuel or nutrients it needs to function properly. The two main parts of malnutrition are
1. Not eating enough
2. Not receiving enough nutrients
Even a person who eats three meals a day still may not be getting proper nutrition. For example, an ounce of almonds gives you 3.5 grams of fibre, 6 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, 37% of your daily vitamin E, 32% of your daily Manganese, 20% of your daily Magnesium, and a nice amount of copper, vitamin B2 and phosphorus! Compare that to an ounce of popcorn – 2.8 grams of fibre, 2.6 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat, 0.1% of your daily Vitamin A, 0.1% of your daily Vitamin C, 0.3% of your daily Calcium, and 4.4% of your daily Iron. Eating properly means considering both the quantity and quality of the foods you consume.
When a person, and especially an elderly person, does not give their body the nutrition it needs to function, they’ll suffer serious consequences. Malnutrition can cause
● Longer recovery times from wounds and illness
● Reduced muscle and tissue mass
● Decreased mobility and stamina (due to muscle wasting)
● Breathing difficulties
● An increased risk of chest infection and respiratory failure
● Slower immune response (which increases the risk of getting infections, and increases the length of time that it takes to recover from infection)
● Difficulty staying warm, increasing the risk of hypothermia
● Increased hospital admissions
● More visits to the GP
All the above health problems can be avoided, or at least decreased, if your elderly loved one gets proper nutrition.
Causes of Malnutrition in Seniors
Seniors are one of the most at-risk groups for malnutrition due to their aging bodies and changing life circumstances. Your loved one may be malnourished because of
● Difficulty getting food (either due to lack of budget, or problems leaving the house and getting to the store independently).
● Living alone, without social interaction at mealtime
● Medication side-effects that suppress appetite or create bitter tastes
● Restricted diets such as low sodium or low-fat diets
● Depression or lack of interest in cooking
● Trouble swallowing
● Trouble eating (due to sore gums or poor dental health)
How to Spot Senior Malnutrition
Do you suspect your loved one may be suffering from malnutrition? The following signs and symptoms can clue you in, especially if your loved one is hiding their habits from you to save you from worrying.
● Low body weight or (unintentional) weight loss
● Clothes that don’t fit like they used to
● Depression and lack of energy
● Concerns with memory
● Not remembering what or when they last ate
● Frequent illnesses
● Dry, cracked skin and slow healing bruises or wounds
● Old, expired food in the fridge
● Troubles chewing or swallowing
● Muscle weakness
13 Ways You Can Help
So you’ve identified that the senior in your care is malnourished or at risk of being malnourished. Here are 13 practical steps you can take to help them get the nutrients they need and be as healthy as possible. (Different solutions will work for different people, so
choose a few that work for you and your loved one!)
1. Prepare meals for them (especially easy to eat and swallow such as soups, yogurt, smoothies, and other soft foods.)
2. Pick up groceries for them or have groceries delivered to their house (and if necessary help put them away).
3. Plan easy-to-make meals with them and make sure they have the necessary ingredients and utensils.
4. Order them a meal delivery program.
5. Make sure they have healthy snacks to eat between meals (prepared fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and proteins).
6. Ask their doctor about removing or substantially modifying their dietary restrictions.
7. Talk to their doctor about nutritional supplements like prepared shakes or drinks.
8. Help them get regular physical activity (this can improve appetite and strengthen their body).
9. Add flavor to meals with spices and herbs to encourage their interest in eating.
10. Arrange a visit with a registered dietitian.
11. Improve protein intake by adding meat, peanut butter, or protein powder to their diet.
12. Ask their doctor about limiting medications that aggravate nutritional problems.
13. Encourage family members, friends, or a caregiver to be present at mealtime (and to assist in the feeding if necessary).
Every Bit Counts
The key in helping seniors get the nutrients they need is identifying what foods and nutrients they need and getting those foods and nutrients to them and into their bodies.
Every bit of improvement in your elderly loved one’s diet has a huge positive impact on their health. It’s never too late to begin implementing solutions and speaking to their practitioner.
Looking for more helpful resources for helping your loved one? Community Home Health Care has a caring, experienced staff of trained in-home caregivers, including personal care aides, registered nurses, and home health aides.
Explore our website and fill out the online form to receive more information about the medical help, personal care, and friendship we provide. You can call (845) 425-6555 with any questions you have, and we’ll be happy to help.