How to Prevent Senior Malnutrition
Malnutrition refers to either undernutrition or overnutrition. Individuals become malnourished when their diet does not involve enough nutrients and when it cannot provide them with calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals necessary for maintenance and growth and proper functioning of their bodies.
Malnutrition can lead to serious health issues. It weakens the immune system which further leads to weakening of the muscles and an inability to heal quickly and an increased risk of infections. As we age the fall-risk increases and proper nutrition presents a crucial factor in avoiding malnutrition and in preserving our health.
What does malnutrition in older adults cause?
Malnutrition in older adults can lead to a high number of various health problems such as weight loss that is unintentional and which further leads to weakening of the muscles and the loss of strength. Malnourished seniors will often feel tiredness and fatigue and as if they are left without any energy. Because of this, they may feel depressed, and their memory will be poor. Malnutrition will also weaken their immune systems and sometimes even cause anemia.
All these health issues can lead to a greater risk of fall in the elderly. They will visit the doctor more often, and they will not be able to recover so quickly from surgery and some other procedures as well-nourished people.
What leads to malnutrition in older adults?
Malnutrition in older adults occurs when they do not eat food which contains all necessary nutrients for their good health, and it is often caused by a combination of social, physical and psychological factors.
Older adults may often have health problems that cause a loss of appetite and troubles with eating such as dementia or dental issues that make chewing and swallowing food difficult. Some of them may also suffer from some chronic illnesses, or they may have difficulties with absorbing nutrients and a diminished sense of taste or smell. They may be on diets that are restricted and that make foods taste bland, or they may have some physical disability that makes them unable to do the shopping and get the groceries and cook for themselves. They may also use certain medications that are known to decrease appetite and affect the taste and smell of food.
Some older adults may have troubles with affording necessary groceries because of their limited income and expensive medications that they are supposed to use.
Failing health, grief, lack of mobility, loneliness, reduced social contact and a variety of other factors might cause depression which can further lead to loss of appetite.
Alcoholism can decrease appetite. Alcohol interferes with the digestion and affects the way of how the body absorbs nutrients, and it should not be used as a substitution for meals.
How to recognize malnutrition in older adults and how to prevent it?
Malnutrition in seniors can be difficult to identify. To detect malnutrition one has to observe the eating habits of the older adults and to watch for signs of weight loss and its consequences such as poor wound healing, bruising, and dental issues, and to follow which medications they take.
Malnutrition can be prevented if seniors pay regular visits to their doctors especially if they notice the first signs that can indicate malnutrition. It can also be avoided if one encourages seniors to eat healthier food that contains all necessary nutrients such as fresh vegetables and fruits and nuts, dairy products, rice, etc. Bland food should be added spices, lemon juice or herbs so that it can taste good. Some between-meal snacks should be included and also every meal should be a social event if that is possible. Seniors should be encouraged to be more physically active and socially involved, etc.