Senior Malnutrition (and What Caregivers Can Do About It)
When it comes to senior health, it’s so easy to immediately direct the conversation towards diseases like Alzheimer’s and Type II diabetes. The truth is, however, that over 35 percent of adults over 65 could be considered malnourished, or lacking in the critical nutrients they need to lead a healthy life. If you are a senior or caregiver to one, don’t miss this essential guide to senior malnutrition and what you can do about it:
Roadblocks to Healthy Nutrition
For seniors, eating a full and healthy diet comes with various challenges, including:
- Access to food – not only does this refer to the food resources available in a senior’s region but their ability to find transportation to grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.
- Chronic illness – a variety of chronic illnesses can affect a senior’s ability to eat, their appetite, as well as the medicines they take (which may affect nutrient absorption). Poor dental health can also make eating painful.
- Reduced social contact – less social interaction can change the enjoyment seniors get from eating with other people, leading to feelings of loneliness and disinterest in eating.
- Limited income – a limited and fixed income can make budgeting for healthy foods each month very difficult.
- Restricted diets – seniors with restricted diets, like those with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), may encounter roadblocks in tailoring a diet to their medical needs while also getting enough nutrients.
- Depression – depression in older adults may evolve from grief, loss of independence, loneliness, failing health or other factors and can lead to decreased appetite.
- Substance abuse – alcohol abuse negatively impacts digestion and nutrient absorption and can often replace meals.
Signs of Malnutrition
Malnutrition doesn’t just present as unexpected weight loss, though that is a hallmark indicator of underlying nutritional deficiencies. Sometimes it may be uncovered when a senior experiences multiple falls; weakness and muscle loss from insufficient nutrient intake of calories, protein, and calcium, for example, could lead to more stumbles.
Poor dental health, slow wound healing, and a proclivity for getting sick can also indicate that the body is not receiving the vitamins and minerals it needs to properly carry out basic functions and guard against infection.
Other less obvious signs of malnutrition may also include if a senior frequently feels cold, frequent tiredness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating as well as an overall lack of interest in food or meal preparation.
How Caregivers Can Help
More and more young to mid-age adults will be called on in the next 15 to 30 years to provide some type of care for their aging parents and grandparents. This will involve making sure that healthy nutrition doesn’t fall by the wayside. Keep these tips in mind:
Monitor your loved one’s consumption – do you know what your loved one’s eating habits are? If you do not live with them, make sure to find out how they are getting to the grocery store to buy food and whether they can have meals delivered to them. If your loved one is in the hospital or at a nursing care facility, make sure to visit during mealtime to see what is being offered and if your loved one is eating proper meals.
Look into supplements – supplements like multivitamins for seniors can help your loved one get the critical nutrients they need that their diet may not be providing. Supplements can also be tailored towards specific medical needs; for example, arthritis supplements with ingredients like turmeric, glucosamine, ginger, and Omega-3’s can provide relief to stiff, inflamed joints.
Learn about nutrition – a little education can go a long way to equipping caregivers with the tools they need to give their aging loved one a fighting chance. For example, did you know that adults lose 3 to 5 percent of their total muscle mass every decade after 30? Keeping muscles strong means getting lots of protein and electrolytes. Other key nutrients for seniors include calcium, Vitamins C, D, and B-12, folic acid, and essential fatty acids.
Set up grocery delivery – even if you live far away from your aging parent, you may still be able to help them get quality meals. Delivery services like GrubHub and UberEats allow you to order meals from local restaurants for delivery, while many grocery stores (like WholeFoods) and startups (like InstaCart) have on-demand grocery delivery available too.
Simplify mealtime – an easy dinner doesn’t have to consist of another bland ham and cheese sandwich. There are healthier, more effective ways to simplify mealtime including using a high-powered blender to make nutritious soups, smoothies, and shakes. With a device like a Vitamix or Blendtec, your loved one can quickly blend up whole foods like berries, spinach, sweet potato, avocado, banana, nut butters, broccoli, and more with the push of a button.