Nutrition is important to everyone, especially to seniors who are at a higher risk of illnesses due to age. However, due to various factors, eating a balanced diet can be a challenge.
The Root of Malnutrition
Many people who are above the age of 65 have chronic illnesses that limit their movement and mobility. Regular household tasks such as buying groceries and preparing meals, therefore, become more difficult.
There are other problems such as lack of finances and the absence of a family member who can cook for them that contribute towards an unbalanced diet.
The elderly may lose their appetite due to a number of reasons. They may have dental problems that prevent them from chewing and swallowing food properly. In some cases, poor dental hygiene may even lead to malnutrition, since the food they eat is not properly digested.
Depression can also cause a loss of appetite. Since there is no joy in eating or preparing meals, the elderly may lose interest altogether.
Malnutrition can be defined as an inadequate supply of nutrients that is either over or under consumption. The body gets its nutrients from food and drink. Malnutrition can be caused by insufficient intake of micronutrients and macronutrients.
The signs of malnutrition are many, including changes in weight or lack of body fat, loss of muscle mass, dry skin, weak nails, and hair loss.
If not corrected early on, malnutrition can lead to other health problems such as diarrhea, anemia, constipation, and fatigue.
Get a Medical Exam
The first step in managing malnutrition is to take a thorough history. Ask the patient about their dietary habits, medical conditions, and family history.
The physical examination will give you an idea of whether there is a loss of muscle mass, anemia, or dehydration. You will also check for other signs such as dry skin or hair loss.
A number of tests can be done to diagnose malnutrition. The usual blood work includes a CBC count, ferritin levels, and vitamin B12 levels.
In addition, a 24-hour dietary recall can be helpful in assessing the dietary habits of the patient.
Health Promotion and Lifestyle Changes
It is important to provide a balanced diet that ensures all the necessary nutrients are consumed every day. The recommended diet for seniors consists of servings from each of five food groups.
These are fruits and vegetables, grains, protein sources, dairy products, and healthy fats. Some experts recommend following a Mediterranean-style diet that includes plenty of fresh produce, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, olive oil, lean red meats, poultry, and fish.
You can also encourage the patient to practice good oral hygiene since dental problems are one of the leading causes of malnutrition in seniors. You can inquire with their dentist about practices that will make it easier for them to maintain their oral hygiene.
Mental health is an important factor in maintaining a healthy diet. If they suffer from depression, try to find ways in which they can be encouraged.
You may find that the patient is reluctant to eat since food does not seem enjoyable anymore. In such cases, it is best to recommend healthy foods that are appealing in taste or appearance.
When They Can No Longer Take Care of Themselves
At some point, the patient may become completely dependent on others for all their needs. This may happen due to chronic illnesses like congestive heart failure or dementia that limit their mobility and independence.
When the patient is no longer able to take care of themselves, they should still be offered three meals each day. They may need to hire a caregiver who will come to their house regularly to cook food for them. If they were diagnosed with an illness, a home health professional can also help administer treatment regularly.
Depending on their condition, they may be able to do some of the work themselves.
If the patient has a completely sedentary lifestyle, you may encourage them to slowly increase their physical activity level. They should start off by going for short walks that gradually increase in length.
Exercise is equally important to the elderly as a balanced diet. It enhances their motor functions, increases bone density, and reduces the risk of other age-related conditions. Moreover, it can aid in increasing appetite which can help address malnutrition.
Malnutrition among elders is a common problem. It can happen for various reasons. If not addressed, it can lead to disastrous consequences. If the signs of malnutrition are caught early on, it can be prevented or corrected through a balanced diet and exercise.