How to Detect Malnutrition + Hunger in Older Adults

Statistics on the elderly and hunger in America are deeply troubling. Some experts report that by 2025, an estimated 9.5 million seniors will experience hunger or malnutrition, which is a 75 percent from 2005. Millions of seniors who appear healthy may in fact be malnourished and that may include your loved one.

Malnutrition is the lack of a balanced, healthy diet full of nutrients and vitamins. For seniors, malnourishment can cause:

  • A decline in physical activity and function
  • Frailty due to loss of muscle mass and fat
  • Worsening of existing medical conditions
  • A weakened immune system and increased vulnerability to disease
  • Higher mortality
  • As a caregiver, it’s critical to know the signs of malnutrition so that you can help your loved one.

    Physical problems:

  • Unusual weight loss
  • Easy bruising
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Improperly fitting dentures, causing a person to skip meals.
  • Know what medications your loved one takes.
  • How do these drugs affect appetite?
  • Food is moldy or expired.
  • Boxes of food remain unopened.
  • There are no dirty dishes or signs of eating.
  • Know the potential causes of malnutrition so that you can address them.

    Improper diet. Appetites change as adults age, causing some seniors to miss meals or eat snacks rather than dinner. This can cause chronic medical conditions to worsen.

    Solution: Invite your loved one over for dinner, help prepare meals and store some in the freezer. Help with food shopping. Buy nutritional supplements so the senior can drink extra calories and protein.

    Financial strain. Living on a limited income can cause malnutrition in seniors. Lack of money can lead some to forego meals in order to pay for heating fuel and medications.

    Solution: Ask your senior’s physician if less expensive medications are available. Seek heating assistance from a state or local energy assistance organization.

    Depression. Depression affects as many as 6 million Americans over the age of 65. It can significantly reduce a senior’s appetite.

    Solution:
    Work with your senior’s physician to find a mental health professional who can screen for depression and establish a treatment plan. Find a companion who can spend time with your loved one and eat at least one meal a day with him or her.

    Chronic conditions. Debilitating, long-term conditions, such as stroke and dementia, can impact a senior’s ability to shop, cook, recognize the need to eat or feed him or herself. Chewing and swallowing difficulty can interfere with the ability to eat.

    Solution: Medical intervention, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy can help your loved one return to the activities of daily life. Home health care can help them in their recovery and assist them in eating.

    Eating is a social activity and one that is essential to good health. Keep an eye on your elderly loved ones to make sure that they are eating properly and getting the nutrients they need.

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