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Aging’s Impact on Nutrition & Reducing the Risk of Malnutrition

Aug 8, 2019 by Stephanie Howe - Owner, Comfort Keepers

Senior Malnutrition


Amid our daily lives, it’s not uncommon for us to push our body’s nutritional needs to the backburner. Think, for instance, of all the times you’ve settled for a bagel and a cup of coffee for breakfast when you know full well that you really should have a more well-rounded meal to start your day.


When it comes to nourishment, we can get away with the bare minimum for a while, but of course, one of life’s greatest inconveniences is that what we need to function never stays quite the same. This is especially true for older adults. But what exactly changes in our body that makes paying closer attention to good nutrition so important?


What Changes?


For starters, we experience a gradual loss in muscle mass (something that starts in our 30s) and develop a slower metabolism. Bone density also decreases, and organ tissue begins to thin. We don’t often think about these changes because the focus is largely on aging’s effect on physical appearance – but they are still just as real. But despite these changes, our body still requires the same essential nutrients (protein, vitamins, and minerals), and proper food intake. The challenge is that, because of our slowed metabolism, we don’t need as many calories, making our food choices vital.


Causes of Malnutrition


In addition to the physiological changes that take place, elderly people may also begin to find less pleasure in eating. On the one hand, simply acquiring healthy food may become more difficult, especially if driving is no longer possible. What’s more, many seniors find themselves experiencing a loss of appetite or motivation to eat because of their loneliness. Throughout our lives, mealtimes are often accompanied by social interaction with friends and family members. For a senior living alone, the thought of eating may further emphasize his or her lack of companionship.


All these changes can culminate in malnutrition, a condition that can lead to a rapid decline in health or exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions. Malnutrition in older people can lead to weight loss. And while it’s estimated that nearly five million seniors are at risk of malnutrition, it’s a condition that is often missed or not properly diagnosed. Fortunately, there are ways for family caregivers to help their loved ones reduce the risk of malnutrition.


Reducing the Risk of Malnutrition


- Make meals more social. Schedule days of the week to go over to a loved one’s home to help prepare meals and provide company. If you can’t physically be there, you can always do a video call with them during dinner time.


- Educate seniors on the importance of nutrient-rich foods. While seniors may know that they need to eat nutritious foods, there may be some confusion on how to go about doing it. Plan a shopping trip with them to identify what to get each week, with consideration of the major food groups.


- Consider meal delivery. Whether it’s through Meals on Wheels or subscription services like Blue Apron or HelloFresh, there are several alternatives that aging adults can rely on to get nutritious, well-rounded meals.


- Keep communication open. When in doubt, pay close attention to any changes in a senior’s behavior and be sure to express any concerns you have about their eating habits. As mentioned earlier, emotion can play a significant role in the nourishment we provide for ourselves, so it’s important for aging adults to know that they can about how they’re feeling.


- Consult his or her physician. If you notice that a senior isn’t eating properly (or at all), make sure to work with his or her physician to see what the root cause may be. For instance, a loss of appetite may be caused by a certain mediation, which will then need to be adjusted accordingly. Physician input is especially important if there are any pre-existing conditions, in which case, more specific dietary guidance will be given.


Comfort Keepers of Monroe Can Help


Being there for our aging loved ones and helping to personally identify signs of malnutrition is important, but we can’t do it all. That’s where we come in. At Comfort Keepers of Monroe, we help seniors live healthy, independent lives in their own homes. We understand just how important senior nutrition is to one’s well-being, which is why our caregivers assist in preparing healthy, nutritious meals. Our health care professionals can help to create a nutrition program for your loved one or recommend nutritional supplements. They can also offer companionship care so that seniors have company while they eat. Additionally, we can help them get to the grocery store and find foods that follow the dietary restrictions prescribed by their physician. Contact Comfort Keepers of Monroe today to learn more about our services.


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