Sadly, the diets of many elderly Americans lack the essential nutrients their bodies so desperately need. In fact, a recent study found that over half of all seniors treated at emergency departments every year are either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition. Some of the main reasons why elders get malnourished include depression, impaired dentition and a lack of nutritious food in the home. For those seniors who are aging in place proper nutrition is so important for maintaining their quality of life and independence.
Health Problems Caused by Malnutrition
For people of all ages malnutrition can be caused by either eating too many foods that lack essential nutrients (overnutrition), or by not eating enough food (undernutrition). In older adults, malnutrition typically occurs for a combination of socio-economic, physical and psychological reasons.
Malnourished elders typically experience one or more of these health problems:
- Being overweight or underweight
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Slow wound healing
- Getting sick more often
- Heart trouble
- Vision loss
- Muscle weakness
- Memory loss
- More likely to be hospitalized or even die
To make matters even worse nutritional deficiencies are oftentimes hard to diagnose because they can mimic other health problems commonly seen in the elderly.
How to Keep a Senior Well Nourished
Fortunately, as an informal caregiver there are several reliable ways to keep your aging in place loved one well nourished, starting with these:
Watch their weight
Look for physical signs that your loved one has lost weight, like a frail, gaunt appearance or when their clothes are starting to fit too loosely. Gaining a lot of weight is also a red flag, notably when your senior’s diet contains a lot of highly processed, sugary or fast foods.
Keep them active
Since a poor appetite and malnourishment typically go hand in hand, encourage your senior to exercise regularly and stay socially active. Daily exercise promotes a healthy appetite, as does participating in social activities where fellow seniors meet to share meals and meaningful conversation.
Schedule a dental appointment
If chewing difficulties and impaired dentition are keeping your loved one from eating like they should, take them to the dentist for a checkup. Sometimes a new filling or set of dentures is all it takes to keep your senior well nourished.
Prepare healthy meals
It’s not uncommon for seniors who live alone to not want to prepare meals because it seems like a waste of time or reminds them of a deceased spouse. Loss of taste is also common in older adults. Tantalize your loved one’s taste buds by preparing them some tasty meals with herbs and spices to enhance the flavor.
If they have trouble swallowing cut their food into smaller bites, puree it in a blender or try some healthy smoothies containing Greek yogurt, fresh veggies and fruits. If you don’t have time to prepare and drop off meals look-into a meal delivery service with senior-focused selections.
Talk to their doctor
Certain diseases, illnesses and medications can affect appetite and nutrient absorption. Dementia causes behaviors like forgetting to eat or buy groceries, and having a stroke can result in swallowing difficulties and taste disturbances- all of which can cause malnutrition.
When you suspect that your loved one is malnourished for one or more of these reasons talk to their doctor or a registered dietician about creative ways to get them the nourishment they need.
Meeting the Nutritional Needs of At-Home Seniors
Ensuring that an at-home senior eats well can be difficult. At First In Care, we understand the unique dietary requirements that seniors have, and provide expert, compassionate home health care that addresses those nutritional needs. In addition to grocery shopping, nutrition education, meal preparation and cleanup, our highly-trained aids deliver other services like personal hygiene, light housekeeping, companionship and transportation.
From a few hours per week, to 24-hour care, we provide seniors with the independence, dignity and self-esteem they deserve, while restoring your peace-of-mind. To learn how First In Care meets the nutritional needs of seniors, or more about our family-trusted, senior home health care services in the Manatee County, FL, area, visit: www.firstincare.com now.