While many of us seem to focus our diets solely around trying to lose weight and prevent disease, nutrition problems facing the elderly can be the opposite. Good nutrition is important for overall health and well-being, yet many older adults are at risk of malnutrition. Malnutrition in older adults can be caused by an array of factors such as loss of appetite, lack of ability to chew and swallow, dementia, depression, medicines, and even the lack of ability to prepare or shop for food.
Malnutrition is a condition that can occur in frail, underweight older adults as well as in overweight and obese adults whose nutritional needs are unmet. According to the Mayo Clinic, malnutrition in older adults can lead to various health concerns, including:
• Weak immune systems
• Poor wound healing
• Muscle weakness and decreased bone mass
• Higher risk of hospitalization
• Increased risk of death
Although there are many reasons why older people become malnourished, there are practical ways to deal with the problem.
• Encourage healthier food choices such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
• Snacking on healthy foods is a good way to get in those extra nutrients and calories between meals.
• Make foods taste good again by adding spices and herbs to help restore flavor to otherwise bland foods. Avoid heavy herb and spice blends that are heavy in salt.
• Plan social activities with mealtime as a social event. Invite a friend for lunch.
Managing nutrition for an older loved one can be trying. Talk with the family doctor, and ask for help in creating a plan. Check with local community resources. They may be able to help with programs such as Meals on Wheels.