Millions of Americans don’t eat like they should, including those aged 65+. Although proper nutrition is important at any age, proper senior nutrition can be even more important. In fact, malnourished seniors are more likely to experience falls, anemia, illnesses and hospitalizations. For those still living at home, malnutrition can place their freedom and independence at risk. If you’re currently looking after an aging in place loved one who’s “nutritionally challenged” here are some ways to ensure that they get the nutrients their body so desperately needs.
Why Many Seniors Don’t Eat Right
For many seniors ordering fast food or opening a bag of chips is much easier than preparing a nutritious meal- especially when they live alone.
Here are some other factors that cause malnutrition in the elderly:
- Trouble eating because of arthritis or other physical problems
- Diminished sense of taste or smell
- Chewing or swallowing difficulties
- Issues that interfere with food shopping or meal preparation
- Limited income
- Side effects from medications
- Loneliness and depression
- Cognitive impairment caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
To make matters even worse, healthcare appointments and check-ups typically lack any nutritional counseling. Unfortunately, malnourishment can lower a senior’s quality of life and ultimately placing their health and wellbeing at risk.
How Malnutrition Affects the Elderly
According to the Mayo Clinic, malnourished seniors often times experience these health problems:
- Poor wound healing
- Weakened immune system that makes infections more likely
- Muscle weakness and bone mass loss which lead to falls and fractures
- Higher risk for hospitalizations
- Increased risk for dying
Sadly, because of malnourishment many older adults every year end up in the hospital or nursing home- and some lose their independence permanently as a result.
Keeping Your Loved One Well Nourished
As a caregiver there are several strategies for ensuring your loved one gets the essential daily nutrients they need:
Meet with a dietary specialist
Speak to a registered dietician or nutritionist about your loved one’s health condition, along with anything that might be interfering with their appetite. A dietary specialist can help you plan a more nutrient-rich diet and provide creative ideas for getting your senior to eat more. There are also multiple online sources that offer ideas for proper senior nutrition.
In general, when planning a healthy diet for your loved one use these guidelines:
- Stick to healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish and olive oil while avoiding saturated fats and trans fats.
- Choose whole grains that are rich in fiber and nutrients like brown rice, whole grain breads and cereals rather than white bread and refined grains.