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Malnutrition in the Senior Population

March recognizes National Nutrition Month, with a 2020 theme of "Eat Right, Bite by Bite". The focus is to help people of all ages make informed food choices and develop healthy habits related to both eating and physical activity.

Whether you are 8 or 80, good nutrition is essential to a person's overall health and well-being. As we age, our needs change as do our bodies and their ability to absorb, store, process and use proper nutrients. A variety of reasons causes it to become more difficult for seniors to receive and use the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Malnutrition in the elderly population is a real concern, and can affect a person in various situations such as being hospitalized or if they are living with a chronic condition in any residential setting. It can contribute to a decline in overall health, a reduction in cognitive function and an increased risk for other complications to arise or become exacerbated.

Why Seniors Can Be Malnourished

At its core, malnutrition is the result of not getting enough of the correct nutrients, vitamins, minerals, calories, etc. However it is a much more complex issue that can be caused by physical, social and emotional factors. Here are a few reasons why an elderly person may fall victim to malnourishment:

Medication Side Effects: Many seniors are on a variety of medications to control chronic illnesses. Antibiotics to treat short-term conditions can also contribute to side effects that impair a person's ability to eat. The side effects could cause nausea or an upset stomach causing a person to not want to eat. Their appetite may be diminished and make them not want to eat at all, or consume less calories than they need.

Furthermore, the illnesses or conditions being treated by medications often have their own side effects, such as inflammation within the body. As the immune system is impacted, the body's ability to process and absorb nutrients can be compromised.

Age-Related Changes: Very simply, our bodies change as we age. Our digestive system produces less of the fluids necessary to aid in normal digestion, which means a person may not be able to absorb all the required nutrients for our bodies to function normally.

Additionally, our senses of taste and smell can be diminished, which means eating may not be as enjoyable as it once was. That can lead to a diminished interest in eating and a long-term change in regular eating habits.

Impaired Mobility: For seniors who live alone, if their mobility is impaired, it may be difficult for them to obtain or prepare food. Many seniors rely on help from family or friends, but if they do not have this support system in place, they risk becoming isolated. Isolation can lead to depression and anxiety as well as the physical risk of not having enough food to eat.

How You Can Keep Your Senior Healthy!

Monitoring nutrition and preventing malnutrition are important to keeping your loved one as healthy as possible. If your loved one lives in a residential senior living community (like Evergreen), the culinary and wellness teams work together to ensure your loved one is receiving the appropriate diet for their individual needs. Curated meal plans that take dietary restrictions and concerns into account ensure your loved one has the opportunity to enjoy delicious, healthy foods each and every day.

If you are a caregiver or can provide support for an elderly loved one, here are a few ways to help them receive proper nutrition:

Pay attention to their eating habits. If possible, spend meal times together so you can see how much they are actually consuming.

Help them with grocery shopping and meal planning. You may consider taking care of some of the meal preparation to make meals easier and faster for your loved one. It could be something you do together or on your own. Either way, making meal time as easy as possible can help a senior ingest more food. Allow them to be part of choosing the meals, ingredients, snacks, etc. so they are more inclined to eat.

Use lots of herbs and spices to make food tastier and more satisfying.

Watch their weight. You can keep a weekly record of their weight, but you will also be able to tell if they are gaining or losing weight by paying attention to how their clothes fit and what kind of energy levels they have.

Keep track of medications. If you know the potential side effects of specific medications can affect nutritional absorption or appetite, talk to their health care provider or pharmacist about ways to counteract this. Supplements may be in order, but should be discussed with their doctor first.

Evergreen Senior Living

If you would like to learn more about the dietary and nutrition services available at Evergreen Senior Living, please visit our website. Our Illinois-based communities are driven to provide the best possible care for seniors through our expertise and care.

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