Good Nutrition Helps Preserve Independence
Undernourishment and malnutrition are serious problems for America’s growing 65 and older population. While estimates vary widely, the American Dietetics Association has reported that between 35 percent and 85 percent of seniors are at risk for being under or malnourished. The need for awareness about senior nutrition is growing by the day. America is getting older — the number of older adults will double in the next 30 years – so it is imperative we educate our communities about this problem to ensure the number afflicted by malnourishment does not keep pace with the dramatic increases in senior population growth.
What is Malnutrition?
Malnutrition is caused by a combination of a nutrient-poor diet, too little food and poor absorption, and can be compounded by physical, emotional and social problems. Malnutrition and under-nourishment in seniors are not always obvious, so caregivers and loved ones should pay special attention to the signs.
Here are some simple things you can do to help ensure your loved ones are getting the nourishment they need:
- Spend time with older loved ones during normal meals at home.
- If you have an older friend or family member in a hospital or long term care facility, make a point of visiting during mealtimes.
- Look for physical problems such as weight loss, easy bruising and dental difficulties. Keep in mind, not all seniors with nutrition problems are thin—in some cases, malnutrition occurs in seniors who are overweight.
- Pay attention to how medication affects appetite and digestion. Many commonly prescribed medications can reduce hunger and prevent nutrient absorption. Make sure an older senior takes medications as directed.
- Ask your loved one’s doctor to check certain protein levels, which can identify malnutrition.
- Pay attention to food safety considerations, such as the temperature of refrigerated items, and clean out dated foods on a regular basis.
Seniors can improve their quality of life and preserve their independence longer by making dietary changes. About 30 million older Americans live with chronic diseases that nutrition therapies can be effective in managing and treating. Seniors should choose foods that are low in fat and sodium, high in fiber and calcium, easy to chew, swallow and digest; and simple to prepare. Mealtime can become more enjoyable by trying new flavors and spices, making meals a social time, getting prepared meals from an outside source, such as Meals on Wheels.
Article provided by
Sandra Henriksen, RN