By Edward Francis
Malnutrition is a serious problem among the elderly, which is often underestimated. Of non-institutionalized elderly people, an estimated 10 to 50 percent suffer from malnutrition. There are different strategies to improve their nutrition, including dietary approaches, and the use of nutritional supplements.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition is a situation where a person’s body is not getting the correct nutrients that it needs to function well. It usually refers to a deficiency in energy producing foods and protein. When a person does not have the food they need, it can result in a decline of their body functions and poor health. Results may include lower muscle strength, reduced immune system, and slower healing of wounds and injuries. There can also be psychological effects, with detrimental impacts on attitude, mood, and self-esteem.
Causes of malnutrition in the elderly
Old people naturally eat less. As people age, there is a natural decrease in energy use, and an associated loss of weight and appetite. Aging also has some effects on the gastrointestinal system that reduce the absorption of some nutrients. Sometimes weakness, dementia, arthritis, pain in the mouth, or general confusion can hinder a person’s ability to eat, resulting in malnutrition. Anxiety, depression, illness, nausea, bereavement, resistance, alcoholism, or social anxiety can all contribute to a person having a poor appetite.
Some medications can interfere with a person’s nutritional status. For instance, they could cause altered tastes, confusion, dry mouth, vomiting, dyspepsia, diarrhea, or hypermetabolism. Some people may not have enough food to eat, either due to their financial situation, or difficulty doing the shopping. In this case, it is paramount for seniors to ask for help and find a way to improve their lifestyles and their diet habits. People who have cancer often suffer from malnutrition too, due to metabolic and physical changes, and the effects of treatments. Surgery can also cause metabolic changes.
Strategies to improve nutrition in seniors
Before giving someone oral nutritional supplements, the first step should be to get as much of the nutrition as possible for them via their diet, with regular food and drink. This is called the “Food First” approach. Here are specific strategy suggestions.
• Try eating more times per day, with small servings. Instead of three large meals a day, try three small meals plus snacks, so that there is food eaten every 2 or 3 hours.
• Make the most of natural cycles. If a person is naturally hungrier in the morning, make that their biggest meal of the day.
• Eat favorite foods anytime. People are more likely to eat the food they like. If they like breakfast cereal, then why not allow eating this for dinner. If they want soup for breakfast, that’s fine. It will help them keep eating.
• Walk before meals. Taking a short walk before sitting down to eat can stimulate a person’s appetite.
• Drink after meals. Even a glass of water can make you feel more full, resulting in less food intake. Try drinking after eating instead of before.
• Stock convenience foods. Keep a regular supply of food that is easy to prepare and eat. This could include canned soup, pre-made pudding, cereal, nuts, fruit, granola bars, or frozen meals.
• Fortify meals. Add extra energy to meals by adding butter, cheese, salad dressing, honey, oil, or other calorie-rich additions.
Finding solutions for loss of appetite in seniors
Some medications may interfere with a senior’s ability to eat. A cooked breakfast in the morning with eggs, cheese, and baked beans prior to taking medications will keep them energized. Seniors with chewing and swallowing problems are more susceptible to malnutrition than others. In their case, the caregiver should modify the food’s consistency. Tender cuts of chicken meat, soups, and purées, are highly recommended. Adequate mouth and dental care should also be considered.
Senior people have extremely sensitive bodies. They have a slow metabolism that doesn’t burn much energy and they can’t eat because of the adverse effects of pills. Malnutrition is common in older people and it may lead to more aggressive illnesses, especially when the condition is also caused by mental problems. Caregivers should pay more attention to seniors’ diets and take action as soon as they spot irregularities.
– Edward Francis is interested in writing about health and fitness related issues. He has a deep knowledge at this field. Also he writes for a site supplemented.co.uk which offers high-quality vitamins and supplements at the best possible prices.