A common misconception is that malnutrition equals a lack of food. As part of Malnutrition Awareness Week, it’s important to be aware of what malnutrition really means. The failure to get proper nutrition affects the thin, the overweight, the young, and the old. It’s especially pervasive among America’s elderly population. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, in 2012 there were 3.7 million seniors diagnosed with malnutrition. What can be done to help ensure proper nutrition?
First, seniors should eat a nutritious diet of fruits, nuts, and fiber. Additionally, seniors should engage regularly in social interactions and seek increased physical activity.
Malnutrition weakens the immune system. This leads to slower healing and an increased risk of infection as well as muscle weakness. As fall-risk increases with age, it’s particularly important to be aware of and protect against muscle and bone weakness in order to stay healthy and mobile.
Many factors can play a role in the malnutrition of seniors. Dental problems like trouble chewing and weak or missing teeth can impact an elderly person’s ability to eat. Cognitive and psychological issues can lead to loss of appetite. Decreased mobility and limited transportation limit a senior’s access to food and interest in it because they cannot enjoy going to the grocery store or restaurants. Drinking due to depression can also decrease appetite as well as interfere with the absorption of nutrients and digestion.
Nutrition can be greatly improved when caregivers and/or family members make mealtimes with a senior a regular event. Not only can the senior be encouraged to eat, they may want to eat more because they have someone to eat with and talk to. Eating is a social event. Older people who eat alone can easily lose interest in eating and dread cooking for themselves. A little bit of company can go a long way to bettering the situation.
If a caretaker or loved one is spending meal time with a senior they can further ensure that the diet is a healthy one. Depending upon the senior’s specific dietary restrictions, chopped nuts, unprocessed wheats, egg whites, and cheese can be added to meals for a boost in nutrients. For seniors with a decreased sense of smell or taste, adding herbs or seasonings can increase the appeal of the food as well as the senior’s desire to eat. Snacks between meals should be planned because the regular but small intake of nutrients will ensure that a senior stays full, and feels full.
An active lifestyle will do a world of good in stimulating the senior’s appetite and improving his or her health. While regular exercise will obviously aid the ability to stay mobile, it will also stimulate blood flow and help the brain and heart to stay healthy. After a half hour of walking each day, a senior’s belly may strong messages to the brain requesting a snack, or a full meal. It only takes a few small steps at a time to ensure proper nutrition and ensure that malnutrition has no part in a senior’s life.